Imagine a stage-four cancer patient being healed after the prayers of Christians in a certain church… It is a wonderful evidence of the might hand of God and His power at work. But is that a miracle? Is getting a much-needed job a miracle? What about for a couple to get a baby after being married for 20 years? What about for a rebellious drug addict and a criminal to repent his sins and be saved, is it a miracle? For a long time in the Christian history, there was unity of opinion that these are not miracles. Surely jobs are not miracles, babies are not miracles, cancer illness healings are not miracles and conversions are not miracles. I know we live at a time when everything that happens and defy a natural or rational explanation is called miracle. But what is the Biblical definition of a miracle? This is the question that we need to ask today.
A miracle is an extra-ordinary, visible, redemptive event, ordained by God to reveal His redemptive purposes to men and arouse their awe and wonder. For example you may see all these elements in Acts 3 of the healing of the lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate. The most significant aspect of miracles is that they in them God attests and confirms His messageas well as those He has sent with the message. This is what John says very clearly when he calls them signs that “are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name” John 20:30, 31.
Undoubtedly, there are many wonderful and astoundingly amazing things that God has been doing in His providence here on His creation to show that He is sovereign and is in control of His creation. It shows that God is actively involved in time and space in His creation in order to bring glory to Himself. We must be careful in calling almost everything miracles. Many people sat that even breathing the air is a miracle! Even waking up is a miracle and the list goes on to show that everything is a miracle. Now that miracles are so common then you defy even the dictionary definition of a miracle. Do you know why people these days call everything a miracle? They are surprised that God is at work because the atheists and anti-God forces have been seeking to show that God is not there.
Looking at the passage before us, we see the mighty hand of God at work in keeping His people from the destruction by evil forces by protecting and providing for their needs so that He may receive all the glory. That is what we saw last week. Today I would us to explore further this passage and be amazed by how God is at work by His power. Last week we saw the chief objective and goal why God is so graciously working among sinful men in keeping them, is for His glory. Today we will discover that He works like that to do good to men and to authenticate His word. But we will also see what else is achieved by this mighty power of God – to draw people to Himself in praise and thanksgiving with boldness and confidence.
1. God cares for people by His power
So far in the book of Acts, God has shown great care for the church community that He began by giving and receiving the redemption price paid by Himself through the giving of His Son and paid by His Son by offering Himself to be the ransom. The community is therefore an apple of God’s eye and so He has continued to shield the church from the forces of destruction wrought by the devil and his forces. The Jews were united with the Roman authorities to persecute Christians. But God has continued to raise more and more Christians. Paul after His conversion on his way to Damascus, he went to so many places preaching the gospel and now he is on his way to Rome to stand trial before Caesar, but also to testify Jesus as the Christ – the hope of Israel. He has been shipwrecked and the Lord has saved them from the disaster of the sea by His caring Hand.
They are now brought safely through to an island called Malta. Immediately the natives (Luke called them foreigners or barbaroi) of the island show them ‘unusual kindness’ in welcoming them to the island. The immediately kindled a fire for them because they were wet and it was raining and cold. Who had prepared these Maltese to care for such a crowd of people (276) in number at such inconvenience of rain and cold? It was God who sovereignly works by His power to turn people’s hearts so that they cared for Paula and company.
We see Paul a very practical man taking the leading role to look after firewood to supply the fire with fuel so that they could dry themselves. But there is a deadly viper disguised as sticks! As soon as the warmth of the fire catches on the slimy thing it comes out attacking Paul, and fastening on his hand! They say that there are no longer snakes in this island anymore – God eradicated them! But this attack is not only by the snake but also by the people because they reproachfully evaluated Paul’s predicaments. The conclusion of the polytheistic community was that "No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live" (v.4). What they call ‘Justice’ is a goddess called Nemesis who made sure that justice was meted on criminals according to them. Though he had escaped all the dangers of sea, their own god had caught up on him. But we know that it is not a god that rules this world, but the Living God, who again by His care and providence kept Paul from this disaster! Paul did not swell or fall dead although bitten by such a venomous snake as the Maltese knew it! They waited for a long time but Paul was not like those who had died in the island - the power of God was at work in him. Therefore, the islanders changed their minds (notice Luke’s humor in this phrase!) to identify yet another god - Paul! As you know polytheist communities are not satisfied with the gods they have, they keep on adding them! So just like the Lystrians, they pronounced Paul a god!
They took Paul and his company to the First Man of the island called Publius who warmly received them and entertained them (all) hospitably for three days! How much would it cost to feed 276 people for three days? Why did God in His providence take them to Publius? To show His kindness in providing for them even through the hands of foreigners. But it was also because Publius’ Father was sick from a severe fever and dysentery. Here we see Dr. Luke showing his prowess in what he knew best. This passage is so full of medical terms that could only have been written by a man who was an expert in medicine – he knew the viper was venomous, he very ably gave the diagnosis of the sickness as intermittent attacks of gastric fever and dysentery. This was an opportunity for God to show Himself mighty to save. So He guided Paul to pray for this sick old man and he was immediately healed. The news of this cure spread like fire in a bush so that all the Maltese brought their sick who were healed instantly. This opened a door for the preaching of the gospel in the island as a testimony to the power of God at work in care of men in doing them good in their bodies. This served to authenticate His Word of the good news of salvation in Christ.
When they got to Rome (11-16), the greater and warmer welcome was extended by the brethren in Puteoli (v.13), where they invited them to stay with them for seven days. And then when they were getting near Rome, the brethren from as far places as Forum of Appius and Three Taverns came to meet them! What great hospitality of Christians we see here. They were willing to do everything to receive Paul and they went along way to do it. Imagine you lived in Rome then, do you think you could have gone to welcome them? Very unlikely, we need to consider how hospitable we are to other believers and as they say, there is always a room for improvement.
Although sinners may not see the logic, miracles were there as signs of greater blessings to be found in God for those who will trust in His Son. This is because He who has the power to provide for your physical needs has the power to provide for the spiritual needs as well, He who has the power to heal your diseases has the power to heal your spiritual disease of sin, He who has the power to meet your temporal needs has the power to give your eternal salvation. Those who trust the wisdom in His Word are made wise for salvation, those who trust His Son are made His children, those who go to Him and transferred from the darkness into His marvelous light, those who draw near to Him by faith are made to be in His glory forever!
2. The power of God should lead us to praise and thanksgiving
In the definition I gave for miracles, we notice that miracles are supposed to arouse awe and wonder in men. This is what happened when Paul was not hurt by the viper, so that people could not help supposing that Paul was a god! Only gods are not hurt by venomous vipers! But there is another conclusion that we can draw that is quiet different from that of the Maltese – only those who are under the care of the true and Living God, are not hurt by vipers! The same thing happened when Publius’ Father was healed – the rest of the Maltese who heard of the news brought their sick! If there was no wonder and awe they could not have taken it so seriously.
The Maltese were so excited by the new found God who has such dear people that they honored Paul and his company (Luke and Aristarchus) with many honors. They honored them greatly by supplying their needs. They found them worthy of double honors (1Tim. 5:17). This where the Bible says that,“You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying needs of the saints but also in overflowing with in many thanksgiving to God” (2Cor. 9:11-12). The point here is that this community had found a God that they wanted – the God of Paul was the God they wanted to serve. Their supplying the needs of Paul & Co. was an indication of their thanksgiving to God. Remember that unlike the Lystrians in acts 17, they did not want to worship Paul… they wanted to worship Paul’s God with their substances, through which Paul & co. where done good!
When Paul got to Rome, he “thanked God” (v. 15). He could not help but marvel at the power of God in keeping and caring for him and his companions. He could not help but thank God for keeping His Word to preserve him and all those who were with him. Many times we are not good at being gratefulness. I know that we live during the last days when men will be ungrateful as Paul told Timothy but, why should Christians be like that? Christians are different because Christ has made them to be new creatures the new is gone and they do not follow after the patterns of the world. Do you fall down on your knees in thankfulness to God and praise when you consider what Christ has done for you in saving you? you need to do it more often.
The power of God is supposed to arouse not just verbal awe and wonder but praise and thanksgiving that God has been pleased to tremendously reveal Himself to us by such wonderful blessing of salvation. This then should bring us not just to acknowledge Him as God who is there, but God who has revealed Himself to us by His Son, whom He expects everyone to worship now and in all eternity, and so we praise and honor Him by trusting and depending on Him.
3. The power of God ought to give us confidence
When you read through the books of Acts and look back the last 2000 years of Christ’s power upon the earth through His church, you can be confident about the future of the church. When Paula arrived in Rome he “… thanked God and took courage”(v.15). Paul’s faith was confirmed just as he had said, “… I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told” (27:24, 25). Remember how he had kept this faith and confirmed just as he had told them, “…for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you” (27:34). Clearly after the journey, he could not help but fall down on his knees and thank the Lord and praise Him for His faithfulness.
The confidence of believers is not in their strength but in Christ the One who has all power.Yes, the evil forces have been united against the Lord and His anointed. The devil and his wicked forces have been gathered together against the church of Christ and His people. However, Christ has given him a resounding defeat. Christ has vanquished all the onslaughts of the evil one because ALL POWER IN HEAVEN AND EARTH HAS BEEN GIVEN TO HIM. His power on earth is seen in His church and He will remain victorious and His militant Church victorious. This is the confidence for us even today, now and here.
The power of God is a great encouragement for us in confident hope for the future. There will be false accusations and slander. We will lose family and friends and our property might be plundered. There may be arrests and imprisonments, and all these will be there if we are faithful. Yes – the devil may appear to be making some progress but when can be confidently sure that, “… the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will kill with the breath of His mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of His coming” (2Thess. 2:8).
Our confidence and courage is that we can face the future with an assurance of victory because of Christ – He is the all-powerful God. Nothing can happen except by His divine permission – the devil can do nothing except by His permission and even when it appears that the church is destined to ruin, He will preserve His church with an awesome and amazing manner.
Are you a Christian of courage? Are you full of confidence in your God? Or are you fearful and timid not sure of tomorrow? I assure you that you can face tomorrow with confidence because Christ has taken the greatest obstacle and debt away. You can be confident if you are in Christ the wrath and judgment of God has been in appeased on the account of your Saviour – Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, if you do not trust the Lord Jesus Christ, if you are not saved, you are on your own. You have no one to lean on. You will face the judgment of God and His wrath by yourself because Christ has not born it for you. You have no hope for tomorrow as you are, you do not have confidence to face eternity. The judgment of God is upon you. But why delight in living in such uncertainty in a world so evil and sinful? Instead come to Christ and you will find mercy and forgiveness. Come to the Lord Jesus and you will experience mercy and grace abundantly.
I repeat that the reason has shown His power on earth in giving His Son Jesus is because He cares for the people. Deliverance of those He has set His eyes upon is what drives His deliverance so that people praise and thank Him so that He is glorified. This is how we have confidence for all eternity.