Acts 28

Acts 28: The Sincere Heart

“Simon, son of John (Peter) do you truly love me more than these?” (John 21:15) Jesus will ask Peter this question three times; as if to say to Simon Peter- are you SINCERE when you say you love me?  Sincere means genuine, honest and real.

In the last chapter of the book of Acts, Paul and all on board land safely on the island of Malta. The island was occupied by friendly natives, who received them as Dr. Luke notes with “ unusual kindness.”  Cold and wet, the survivors are probably bordering on being in shock so natives of Malta build a large fire to warm the survivors.  Paul, who impresses us, as a man of action does not sit down and expect to be waited on- he is busy gathering firewood.

In the process of gathering firewood, Paul is bitten by a poisonous snake. Paul shakes the serpent off into the fire as if it is of no consequence. Surely, having been told twice by the Lord he will be his witness in Rome and surviving a horrendous hurricane force storm and a shipwreck, Paul is truly convinced that He who began a good work would certainly be able to finish what He had started.

The effect on the natives was much different. The Lord always gets multiple benefits out of each situation. The natives seeing what has happened to this man believe he must certainly be an evil man, a murderer who escaped the sea, but justice or vengeance will not allow Paul to live. They expect his hand to swell and for him to drop dead in a short time. Do you see that these people- who do not have the law and have not heard the gospel have the law written in their hearts?  They believe in a God who punishes evil. They have come to believe in a God through the light of creation and the law written in their hearts with their conscience bearing witness, as Paul wrote about in Romans 1 & 2.

It is by God’s providence they have landed here on Malta and will wait out the winter months before securing passage to Rome.  Immediately upon landing, the natives witness a miracle as the snake bite which should have been fatal has no effect on Paul at all. They surmise he must be a ‘god’.  Now we must not add to the word of God, but if Dr. Luke knew of their false assumption, we know Paul would have made sure to tell them of the  True and living God.

Next we see the chief official of the island of Malta, a man named Publius, welcome the survivors to his home for three days, where once again Luke notes they are entertained hospitably. We Christians in the 21st century could learn something from these pagans from 2000 years ago about kindness to those in our midst who are strangers or victims of disaster or misery.

At Publius’ home we are told his father was sick in bed with fever and dysentery. Paul went into see him and laid hands on him and prayed for him and he was healed. We are told the rest of the island who were sick came and were cured.  Remember what the resurrected Lord told the disciples in  Mark 16?  This appearance by the Lord is to the Eleven disciples. ‘He rebuked them for their lack of faith and stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.( vs. 14)  He said to them; “ Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will recover.”

Paul would refer to exhibiting the signs of an apostle in 2 Corinthians 12.  Surely, although no account of drinking poison is recorded in Scriptures- here we see Paul ( not on purpose) pick up a snake with his hand and place his hands on sick people and they recover.  I cannot but believe that  Paul would have been obedient to spread the Gospel to these people.

Tradition tells us the church at Malta dates from this time and that Publius was its first pastor. After three months they leave on another Alexandrian ship that Luke even records the figureheads carved on the mast.

In verse 14, Luke tells us rather matter-of-factly : ‘ and so we came to Rome.’

For a moment let us look at how God has blessed Paul and company and we will see how God desires to bless us when we are obedient to do His Will and His Good Pleasure.  To be His witness and make disciples God will bless us in the same way:

God blesses by:

  • Making others treat us with kindness
  • Meeting our needs
  • Encouraging us
  • Delivering us from harm and evil
  • Blessing our influence on others
  • Giving us the desires of our heart. ( It was Paul’s desire to come to Rome to see the Christians there and impart to them some spiritual gift to make them strong. Romans 1)

We can also see a pattern in this first century church that we are to follow, if we are to pass on the faith to the next generation. If we are to finish the race, we must pass on the baton to the next generation. Here is that pattern:

  1. Source of power is the Holy Spirit, not human ingenuity and clever marketing programs.
  2. The pattern for blessing is to walk in the Spirit in obedience to God’s Word.
  3. The church’s message to the lost is the complete Gospel of Jesus Christ. Beginning with Moses.
  4. We are to be on guard against the danger of sin within the church.
  5. Protect the flock from false teaching creeping into the church, diluting the Word of God, compromising God’s Word to fit  man’s word.
  6. Our priorities are to be twofold:  witness to the lost and making disciples of the believers teaching the whole counsel of God’s Word.

So at last Paul and company land and start toward Rome and two groups of Christians come out to meet Paul. What an encouragement to Paul that those who had heard of Paul and read or heard of the contents of his letter to the church at Rome have come to meet him. Some came from the Forum of Appius, a journey of some 40 miles and another group has come some 30 miles from an area called, The Three Taverns. They will walk the rest of the way with Paul and company along the Appian Way.  What a comfort to Paul to be received in such a way and experience the sweet fellowship with those believers to whom he has written and poured out his heart to in the book of Romans.

When Paul arrives in Rome, he is allowed to live by himself in a house where he is under constant guard of a Roman soldier. Paul will be here for two years before he is released. Once again, God prepares others, to be gracious to Paul and  allow him the freedom to receive visitors and send out his epistles which have to this date 2000 years later impacted millions and millions of believers worldwide.

Three days after arriving Paul calls together the leaders of the Jews in the area. When they assembled , Paul began to explain his situation and circumstances. In the course of explaining his arrest, trials and the accusations of the Sanhedrin, Paul tells them his story and how he wanted to see them because of ‘ the hope of Israel.” The ‘hope of Israel’ which was understood by all religious Jews was the kingdom of God, the Messiah and the resurrection.

The Jews tell Paul they have not heard anything about him or received any letters from Judea. So arrangements are made to meet Paul on a certain day and they came in even larger numbers to hear what Paul had to say.

The meeting will turn out to be a day-long seminar, Bible study with Paul as their teacher. We are so accustomed to allowing one to two hours per week for someone to teach us or preach to us – we are annoyed it they go past their allotted time.  Yet in the business world, men and women have been known to sit in meetings for hours and days for training and information to make us better at our jobs and advance our careers.  There are people you and I know who spend more time planning what  or how they are going to spend their time on the weekend or on their vacation than they do planning or investigating where they will spend eternity.

“ From morning to evening, Paul explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and the Prophets. Some were convinced by what he said, but others did not believe. They disagreed among themselves.

We see in Paul’s exchange with these Jewish people, the same problem Paul encountered then, we encounter today with this exception.  At least these people were willing to listen, today many will not even give Christians the time of day, much less listen to us explain the ‘ Hope of Israel’, Who is in fact – the Hope of the World, the Lord Jesus Christ.

We must look at ourselves and the lives we live and ask ourselves  first, is there nothing about us and our lives and the power in our lives they makes them want to listen to us?

Next we must ask ourselves can we answer their questions and defend the Word of God ? Can we answer the charge of those who question the authority of the Word of God. For it was in the Garden of Eden, the enemy asked the question that changed the course of history. The question was aimed directly at the authorship, and thus authority and accuracy of God’ s word:  Has God really said?

How one comes to answer this question and what they believe about the origins of creation, sin, death and  God- will determine where they will spend their eternal future.

Notice again what are the results that we have seen all through the book of Acts- some believed, were convinced and others would not believe.

As a result, the Holy Spirit brings to mind for Paul what the Holy Spirit said through the prophet Isaiah  in Isaiah 6 when he spoke to the forefathers and said:

“ God said to Isaiah – Go tell the people: You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn and I would heal them.” A hard heart is an insincere heart. A heart that is closed, veiled with deceit, bias, prejudice and hidden agendas.

God knows what’s in the heart of man. As did Jesus, who we are told in John 2 “ Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew what was in the heart of man.” There are those who come to hear the Word of God but do not come with a sincere heart, a genuine desire to know the truth. They come with a bias, a prejudice, an agenda and preconceived notion of what they believe to be true. If the Word of God does not conform to their thinking, they believe the Word of God is wrong and they are right. Christians are not immune to this deception either.

We must come with an open mind, an open searching heart that sincerely desires the truth. When I asks the Lord to reveal Himself to me and save me- the Lord knew what was in my heart- a sincere desire to know Him. In fact, a desperate desire to know the truth. Peter described it in much this fashion saying:  “Lay aside all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like  newborn babies desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow.” Lay aside your pre-conceive ideas and come with a neutral heart and teachable spirit. ( I Peter 2).  Sincere means genuine, real, and honest.  Are you sincere when you come to the Word of God? Are you sincere when you say to the Lord, I love you? ( See John 21)  For surely the Lord is sincere when He says He loves you too.  But unlike any other, the Lord knows your heart and knows the motives and thoughts. His eyes penetrate and judge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from His sight.( Hebrews 4)

If you come with a sincere heart desiring to know Him and His will for your life –‘Then if you ask, you will receive, if you seek you will find and if you knock it will be opened to you.  ( Matthew 7) {reference George Mueller’s six steps for knowing will of God.}

Jesus told us- ‘small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and few find it.’(Matthew 7:14) The narrow way is the sincere heart, the neutral heart that desires the Word of God, the pure truth like a baby desires, craves milk. The insincere heart it the heart crowded with agenda, the ways of the world, the false promises of pleasure that sin offers.

The enemy,the devil is the prince of power of the air and this world. Our society and culture  has been and is being conformed  by him and as John writes the whole world lies under the spell of the evil one. His ability to conform our thinking and the thinking of society has been by steadily attacking the reliability of God’s Word.  In this way he has veiled our minds and dulled them to reading of His Word. In other words, many come to His Word with a veil which covers their hearts to this day when Moses is read. ( 2 Corinthians3) A veil that blinds one to the truth and a veil that can only be taken away whenever one turns to the Lord.

C.S. Lewis wrote an interesting book called “Screwtape Letters.” The letters are a clever work where Lewis devotes a book to letters between two demons.  An uncle, named Screwtape is mentoring his nephew, Wormwood in how to keep people from getting saved or once saved how to discourage them from growing and maturing in their faith.  In these letters, Screwtape advises strategies to help keep man’s mind veiled in darkness.

Here is a sample from some of his letters :

Dear Nephew Wormwood,

‘ As always, the first step is to keep knowledge out of his mind. Talk to him about moderation in all things. If you can once get him to the point of thinking ‘religion’ is all right up to a point, you can feel quite happy about his soul. A moderated religion is almost as good for us as no religion at all- and more amusing. Keep him well fed on hazy ideas of Progress and Development and the Historical point of view, I trust, and give him lots of modern biographies to read. The people in them can influence his thinking for us. I was delighted to hear your patient had made some very desirable new acquaintances. These are just the sort of people we want him to know- rich, smart, superficially intellectual, and brightly skeptical about everything in the world. No doubt he must very soon realize that his own faith is in direct opposition to the assumptions on which all the conversations of his new friends is based. We must delay as long as possible the moment he realizes this new pleasure he enjoys is temptation. Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape

It is as old as the Garden of Eden- did God really say?  We  live in a world where science says the Genesis account of creation is a fairy tale, a mythical man-made story. The intellectual tells us this came about because man in olden days before he had the scientific knowledge to understand how creation came to be- made up a fable to explain what they now know to be scientifically incorrect. In other words man created God.

This thinking has placed a veil over people’s mind when the read Moses, who wrote Genesis. Once we come to the Word of God, with the preconceived idea and bias that this is not the Word of God, nor is it inerrant- the die is cast. The mind is molded by those we view as intelligent and learned.  No wonder Screwtape was glad his nephew had brought new friends in to his ‘ patient’s’ life that would influence him and make him feel foolish for believing Moses.

However, me must defend the Word of God and as Paul wrote to ‘ not be ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe.

Dr. Luke closes the story of ACTS by simply telling us for the next two years, Paul stayed in his rented house awaiting trial under house arrest. He boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul would finish his race and pass the baton to those whom he had invested time in making disciples. The question is – are we going to be faithful to pass on the baton to those who come behind us?

Are you sincere when you say to the Lord I love you? Do you possess a SINCERE HEART?