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Man Overboard

Key References: Acts 28:1-10; The Acts of the Apostles, chap. 42, pp. 439-446; The Bible Story (1994), vol. 10, pp. 118-122; Our Beliefs nos. 11, 17, 22.

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“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be  rst must be the very last, and the servant of all’ ” (Mark 9:35).

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We seek opportunities to serve others in every situation.

Have you ever been in a situation in which all you wanted was to be full, warm, and dry? Paul and his shipmates were. But Paul knew someone had to make the first move, so even though he was a prisoner, he did.

After the ship ran aground, the centurion ordered everyone off . Along with the other men, Paul clung to pieces of the ship and they were washed ashore. As the people who were shipwrecked stood shivering on the beach, they noticed a group of people walking toward them.

The island’s inhabitants were friendly. They welcomed everyone to their island called Malta. The islanders quickly built a fire in a sheltered area. Paul, helpful as usual in spite of the cold and wet, helped gather kindling wood. As he threw his bundle in the fire, a poisonous snake struck him and hung on to his hand.

The islanders jumped back. One of them declared that Paul must be a murderer, because even though he escaped the sea, justice would not allow him to live. When Paul brushed off the snake and it fell into the fire, they told him that his hand would swell up or that he would die soon. But, contrary to their expectations, Paul just smiled as he continued to warm himself by the fire.

The islanders carefully watched him. Nothing happened. When their predictions didn’t come true, they agreed loudly among themselves that he must be a god. One of them slipped away to tell their ruler. That man didn’t return, but a servant of the ruler soon came. He invited Paul to the home of a man named Publius who was the top authority on the island of Malta.

Publius graciously welcomed Paul. His servants brought a wonderful meal to the guests. Paul ate well and started to get his appetite back. After the meal Publius spoke directly to Paul about his experience with the snake. He wanted to know if it was true that it didn’t aff ect him. When Paul replied that he was well, Publius asked Paul if he was a god.

Paul, of course, used this opportunity to introduce Publius to the living God. As Paul continued talking about God, Publius listened politely. He asked several questions.

Paul enjoyed the hospitality of Publius for three days. During one of those days a servant bowed quickly and whispered into Publius’ ear, whose expression changed into an anxious frown. He jumped up and excused himself.

One servant told Paul that Publius’ father had been suffering from fever and dysentery. The doctors couldn’t help him. He was near death.

Paul asked to see him.

When Paul arrived, the man’s color was poor and his respiration shallow. He looked like he was dying.

Paul told Publius he would like to pray for his father. Publius agreed without hesitation. Paul knelt by the bed and laid his hands on the sick man. He prayed to the living God for the healing of this man. Publius’ father opened his eyes and sat up. He pushed back the coverings and stood up as if he had just woken to a new day. His face glowed. The servants looked from him to Paul and back to him with wide eyes. Publius introduced his father to Paul as the one who had healed him. Paul again directed them to the living God as the healer.

Word quickly spread around the island about the healing. People came looking for Paul. By the time Paul and the men with whom he had sailed were ready to leave, three months later, many other sick people had been healed, and almost everyone had heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul and his shipmates never lacked anything as long as they were on the island.

When it was time to leave, the islanders furnished them—the crew, prisoners, and passengers—with everything needed for the journey.

The example of Paul serving the people of Malta in spite of his prisoner status and poor health is evidence to the fact that we can serve God—and others—regardless of our circumstances.