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Snakebites! Acts 28:1-6


Suffering from Snakebites?

Text: Acts 28:1-6. 

Every single one of the sailors and passengers have arrived safely on the beach, demonstrating the surety of God’s word and promise, given to Paul in Acts 27:22-26,  Soaked, exhausted, terrified, they are a pathetic bunch of human castaways, standing on a beach in a foreign land, and they don’t even know where they are.   

  1. 1.Barbarous People. 28:1-2  

The story of Paul’s shipwreck on Malta that we have read is exciting, a tale of adventure, an adventure for Christ.  Thankfully the people that Paul and his companions met when they found themselves stranded on a beach on Malta, were friendly.  They kindled a fire, and warmed up the castaways, and made them welcome on their island.  The AV calls these people ‘barbarians’ – but as you can see, they were not at all like what we would imagine barbarians to be like.  We think of barbarians as very unfriendly people indeed.  The word ‘barbarian’ is a very literal translation of the Greek, ‘βάρβαρος (barbaros)’ – it just referred to people who didn’t speak Greek! The Greeks considered their language to be the most beautiful and noble language in the world, and anyone who spoke a different language was considered a barbarian…. These were just the local people, the natives of the island.

2. Bitten By A SnakeV3-6 5

Now, this is the part I want you to note here, in this passage.  Let’s look at the story itself:- 

  1. Paul’s humility.  And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks,and laid them on the fire,, The first thing that we notice is that Paul is gathering sticks! Paul is a highly educated man, a great thinker, the equivalent of a university professor…. yet no task was beneath him, even the most menial of tasks! Nor did he resent being a prisoner.  READ Mark 9:35  
  2. A sudden attack.  It was while Paul was gathering sticks that a potentially dangerous incident occurred. A snake, which presumably had been hibernating in the sticks, was awakened by the warmth of the fire, and startled by its change of circumstances, affixed itself to the apostle’s hand.  there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand.  The Greek text is indisputable, – ἔχιδνα (echidna) -literally a venomous serpent.
  3. A faulty conclusion. These islanders were pagans – They saw the snake coming quickly out of the wood, and gripping Paul – a man in irons and chains, so obviously he’s a prisoner – he must have done something, and he’s going to get his comeuppance for what he did, and since this snake is deadly, and anyone bitten by it would die, – obviously the man is a murderer – right? 
  4. No injury caused.  But that didn’t happen! And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. The islanders stood and watched, – expecting that Paul would fall down dead – after all, there was nothing they could do to help, but they were mistaken. VHow would a snake grip without penetrating the skin?  This actually was a miracle, and the Lord preserved Paul, to continue on his way to Rome, so that God’s word to Paul would be fulfilled.  Because of Paul’s preservation, the natives resorted to their paganism, and decided that he was not a murderer – after all he didn’t die, so he must be a god instead! they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.
Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

There are real doctrinal parallels here. Spiritually, we have all been bitten by a snake! READ Romans 5:13-15. In the garden of Eden, the devil appeared in the form of a snake, and deceived Eve,  bringing sin into the world, and with sin came death.  Remember the warning of God, Genesis 2:16-17 A  When Adam and Eve sinned, stung by the snake, death came into the world – Adam died and we die, – the inevitable result of the snakebite, for everyone bitten by that satanic snake dies.  And we’ve ALL been bitten,

3. Moses and the Bronze Serpent.  Now READ John 3:14  

Jesus is teaching us about salvation. He’s been speaking to Nicodemus, and has told him that ‘we must be born again,’ and now he uses an illustration from the history of Israel, from the Old Testament, to teach how this new birth is possible.  In Numbers 21 the Children of Israel were crossing the wilderness,  They had become impatient, and began to complain and blamed God for their hardships. Numbers 21:5 God sent serpents, and they bit people and people were dying of snakebites. They repented of their sin and pleaded for the plague of serpents to be lifted from them,  Numbers 21:7  God told Moses to make a bronze serpent, and put it upon a piece of wood and he was to raise the serpent up!  Anyone who was bitten by a snake would die – but a cure was offered, V9  A snakebitten sinner, in rebellion against God had only to look upon the bronze serpent and they would be cured.  There was nothing they could do to cure themselves!  Just look and live!

Now, that OT incident is a TYPE of Christ, – we know that because He told Nicodemus that it was – the Christ who was raised up on a wooden tree, – who became sin for us, took upon himself our ‘snakiness’ – our rightly deserved punishment. READ 2 Corinthians 5:20-21  We, guilty sinners, bitten by the serpent, suffering the deadly effects of the fall, dying a physical, spiritual, and eternal death, only have to LOOK to Christ, to the cross and LIVE! We are BORN AGAIN, and we accept that finished work by faith alone! Christ is our CURE.

4. The Snake’s Deadly End.

In our text, in Acts 28, it wasn’t the apostle who died from the attack of the venomous snake.  It was the snake!  Acts 28:5  Just as the watching men of Malta had witnessed the destruction of the deadly snake, from whose fangs Paul had been rescued by God, we too one day will witness the overthrow of that other snake, Satan, cast into the Lake of Fire.

So we have an adventure story.  A storm at sea, a shipwreck, natives who don’t speak the language, an attack by a deadly serpent – and a wonderful illustration of our salvation in Christ, who has saved us from the effects of Adam’s sin, by being lifted up, onto a wooden cross, and an assurance that evil cannot go unpunished.  What an adventure!

© Bob McEvoy March 2022

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