“Now when they had escaped, they then found out that the island was called Malta. And the natives showed us unusual kindness; for they kindled a fire and made us all welcome because of the rain that was falling, and because of the cold. But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand.
So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.”
But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. However, they were expecting that he would swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had looked for a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.” (NKJV)
Many of us can relate to Paul’s situation. He had suffered a time of consistent attack by the Jewish leaders and was unjustly locked up in prison. Then, on his way to Rome to face the court of Caesar, he escaped the fury of the stormy seas and a shipwreck, only to be bitten by a viper, which fastened on to his hand. It sometimes feels like we come through one challenging situation only to be faced with another one, to survive the stormy waters only to be lashed by the rains and bitten by a serpent! This is a picture of the double faceted life we sometimes find we have to live. There is the pleasure of the presence of Jesus even in the midst of pain, sweetness even whilst experiencing suffering, and peace despite extreme pressure. Every difficulty is an opportunity to bring glory to the name of Jesus, and the potential for victory by His power.
When Paul reached the shore in safety, he could have looked up at the heavens and blamed God for his difficulties. He could have sat on the sand with his face in his hands and grumbled and wept, and felt sorry for himself, but he did none of these things. He set about gathering sticks for a fire, and was thankful for the help of the Maltese people – he saw it as ‘unusual kindness’. He was grateful to God that his life and the lives of his shipmates had been spared. Paul was a master at giving thanks to God; we see this in all his epistles, such as in Colossians 3:15, where he said “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.”
When the island people saw the viper attach itself to Paul’s hand, they immediately assumed that this was an act of divine justice, and thought it would kill him. But the viper did not bother Paul. He shook it off into the fire and remained unharmed! This message is from the heart of Daddy God who sees His kids suffer harm and longs for them to know the same victory that we see in Paul’s life. He never promised us a trouble free life. On the contrary, Jesus said to His disciples (John 16:33) “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Viper venom can be fatal to the human body. The bite itself is said to be very painful, and the venom quickly hits the vascular system, causing coagulation to the blood and clotting of the arteries. If untreated, a victim could fall into a coma soon after being bitten, and die within hours. This is what the Maltese people probably expected, but Mark 16:18 was proved true in Paul’s life: “They will take up serpents and, if they drink anything deadly (poison) it will by no means hurt them.” Paul simply shook off the serpent and carried on with what he was doing!
Friend, that viper’s venom had the potential to destroy Paul, but he was not hurt. How was this possible? It was the truth of 1 John 4:4 manifested in the flesh: “He that is in you is greater than he who is in the world”. We may be hit by some painful problems, and attacked from every side, but if we kept our eyes on Jesus, the One who is in us, we would be winners all the time. If we remembered “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20) we would realize that it is impossible for Jesus to be defeated in anything by anyone, and therefore neither can we, because He lives in us! He has already stripped the enemy of his power (Colossians 2:15), and overcome every possible sickness, sin, and difficulty by the power of His shed blood.
In the name of Jesus, God has given us the power to shake off the attacks of the evil one and be victorious! He has called us “more than conquerors” in Jesus and says that this is who we are in every situation. (“In all things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” – Romans 8:37). God has decreed victory for His kids always. We have been given the capacity to overcome every difficulty, to slam the door in the face of the devil and stand on the promises of God. Our Daddy loves us and has equipped us to shake off every attack and be winners always in the power of His Spirit, in the power of the name of Jesus.
We can take some tips from Paul.
1) Paul had a winner’s attitude. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 “We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed.” He had resolved that nothing would knock him out of the race.
2) Paul had a thankful heart. He wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Despite all the trials he was facing, he always saw the goodness of God in his situation, and found something he could be thankful for.
3) Paul was not discouraged by the opinions of people. The Maltese people assumed he was a bad person when the viper attacked him, but it did not bother Paul. He knew who he was before God, and that one of the facts of this life is that it is impossible to please all people! He also knew that God would prove his sincerity to those who thought badly of him.
4) Paul did the best he could in the circumstances. Paul survived a storm and a shipwreck, and found his watery way to the shore without any of his belongings, but he went about finding his feet in this new place and doing the best he could. The 28th chapter of the book of Acts goes on to tell us how he ministered to the sick people on the island and healed them all. He made the best of his situation.
5) Paul shook off his attacker. The viper was nasty and real, and its fangs were filled with venom, but Paul shook it off. You may be misunderstood, judged, betrayed and stabbed behind your back, but shake it off! People and situations can hurt you but you can choose not to be hurt. People can try to oppress you, but you can choose not to be oppressed! Don’t lie down and let the enemy walk all over you. Don’t let your problems get you down. He that is in you is far greater than anything coming against you! You are the temple of the Holy Spirit, you are a powerhouse of His presence. There is no weapon formed that can prosper against you (Isaiah 54:17). Expect every bad situation to turn around. God has given you every opportunity for victory. Start practicing your win!
When Paul suffered no bad effects of the viper’s venom, the island people concluded that he was a divine being. In a sense, this is what he was, and this is what we are too. The supernatural creator God lives in us, and that makes us supernatural and special! People ought to see the light of the Jesus in us and conclude that we are ‘special’!
Paul found great favor in the time he lived in Malta, and even became the friend of the governor of the land (Acts 28:8-10). Although he arrived there with nothing, by the time he left, he had been provided with everything he needed, and was “honored in many ways” (Acts 28:10). God has favor, divine connections, and the same blessings for you! He has breakthrough and victory for you. Focus on Jesus and His goodness and love for you. Start thanking Him for His mercies, which are new every morning. Do your best with what He has given you. You are already on the path to victory. God has decreed that you win. He has already won the battle on your behalf because you are so loved and so precious in His sight!
May you shake off every hindrance and attack that comes against you from this day forwards, and may you walk in the power and the victory which are yours already in Jesus’ mighty name. God loves you and has great plans for you. You are more than a conqueror in Him!
Minoli Haththotuwa, 15 August 2011