Malta is a small Mediterranean island, about seventeen miles from east to west, and about fifty miles from the southern tip of Italy. When the missions committee in Antioch commissioned Paul to carry the Gospel to the uttermost, the Island of Malta probably wasn’t on the itinerary. It’s highly unlikely that Paul intended to visit the island, but God had a different plan.
The ship that carried Paul toward Rome was “severely battered by the storm” … “for many days neither sun nor stars appeared, and the severe storm kept raging. Finally all hope was fading that we would be saved” (Acts 27:18–20). Isn’t it interesting that the storm-tossed ship came to rest at Malta? In God’s sovereign oversight, He brought the vessel back on course. Though the ship and its cargo were lost, all “two-hundred, seventy-six” (Acts 27:37) passengers were saved.
With the ship stuck in a sandbar off the coast of Malta, the centurion “ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to follow, some on planks and some on debris from the ship. In this way, everyone safely reached the shore” (Acts 27:43–44). I wonder, could Luke and Paul swim, or did they cling to a scrap of wood torn from the wrecked ship?
Doctor Luke recalled, “Once safely ashore, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The local people showed us extraordinary kindness. They lit a fire and took us all in, since it was raining and cold” (Acts 28:1–2).
A couple of years before landing on the Island of Malta, Paul had penned the now famous words: “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). He had spent two-years in a Caesarean prison and had nearly lost his life at sea. What “good” did God have planned for Paul as he landed on the rocky coast of the little island?
Wet and cold, Paul served the others by gathering wood for a fire. As he added wood to the fire, “a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand. When the local people saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to one another, ‘This man, no doubt, is a murderer. Even though he had escaped the sea” (Acts 28:3-4), the locals assumed that the gods had given him a death sentence. “But he shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no harm. They expected that he would begin to swell up or suddenly drop dead. After they waited a long time and saw nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god” (Acts 28:5–6). Luke doesn’t record it, but I expect that Paul used this as an opportunity to share the Gospel. Surely, after seeing the miracle, the Maltese people would have listened attentively.
When a rich land-owner’s father was sick, “Paul went to him, and praying and laying his hands on him, he healed him. After this, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed” (Acts 28:8–9). Again, the Scriptures are silent, but we can assume that the Apostle used every opportunity to present the glorious Gospel message.
As Paul and his companions remained on the island of Malta, did many come to saving faith in Jesus? Was a church planted? One can only imagine. But “after three months (they) set sail in an Alexandrian ship that had wintered at the island” (Acts 28:11). In an easy one-day voyage, Paul stood on Roman soil, his journey to Rome almost complete.