A Murderer or a God?

Acts 28:1-6

A Shipwreck and a Viper

There is an amazing scene within Paul’s harrowing shipwreck account in Acts. This scene on the island of Malta offers a rich lesson for those on the gospel mission to the ends of the earth.  You are well aware of the scene, I’m sure.

Paul and the rest of the 275 persons on the ship safely made it to the shore of Malta, just as the Lord had promised Paul. The natives on the island extended kindness to the survivors by building a fire for them because of the rain and cold. As Paul helped gather sticks for the fire, a viper came out of the bundle of sticks, biting Paul in the hand. Notice the two extreme response of the natives to Paul’s lethal predicament:

The first response of the natives was, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live,” Acts 28:4. Their assessment of Paul is that he is a guilty man who could not escape justice. But, as you know, Paul shrugged off the poisonous viper into the fire with no adverse effect on him whatsoever. Notice, then, the second, polar-opposite response to Paul. Upon seeing no effect of the bite on Paul, “They changed their minds and said that he was a god,” Acts 28:6! 

A Murderer or a God?

The natives were entirely wrong about Paul on both accounts, weren’t they? Here is the helpful lesson for us as we bring the gospel to people with faulty evaluations due to their Christless worldview. What is the lesson?

Be wary of the people’s opinions of you no matter what they might be. Do not take stock in their assessment or measurement of you. They are assessing you under the twisted influence of their Christless worldview.

Paul had no reason to fear their condemnation of him in Acts 28:4. And, he also had no reason to enjoy their much more “favorable” view of him the next moment in Acts 28:6. As we take the gospel to unreached people, do not fear their condemnation, nor enjoy their commendation.  Until the gospel transforms them, you do not know the extent of their inability to rightly assess what they see in you.

Before an Audience of One

The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us we are not under God’s justice in any form. Jesus endured that condemnation at the cross in our place. How sweet is our union with Him (“There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Romans 8:1.)! As a result, there is no reason to fear another man’s assessment of our guilt (whether real, or imagined).

And the gospel of Jesus Christ also helps us not to crave the exaggerated or even distorted favor extended to us by others. Christ is everything to us now, and we are merely His lowly servants who eagerly point away from ourselves to Him. He must get all the glory in our labors.

How influenced are you by the finite (and even flawed) assessments of you by others? Let’s turn away from those assessments and put no confidence in them. After all, they do not see us completely and therefore they do not see us accurately like Jesus does. They have no idea how great our guilt truly is (nor the depth of Christ’s love for us at the cross as He suffered under God’s justice in our place). And they have no idea how lowly we truly are in our service of the greatest Master and King! Only He is worthy to be thought highly of.

So labor for the audience of the only One in whose eyes you are never lower than you should be, nor higher than you should be.