"Deaths" That Do Not Sting

Ever since Paul’s conversion earlier in Acts, we’ve seen a consistent pattern that what happened to Jesus happens to Paul. The pattern is clear enough that we could even start to predict what will happen next to Paul. After the trial comes death and resurrection, right? But as we open the final chapter, we find something else instead. Acts concludes before the confrontation with Caesar, and with Paul very much alive, freely and boldly preaching the gospel in Rome.

By leaving out Paul’s passion narrative, Luke keeps our focus right where it should be. Was Paul crucified for your sins? No, and Luke makes sure that we could never make that mistake. Death is not a foe that Paul needs to defeat, because Jesus has already done that. Many commentators see Paul’s shipwreck and survival in Acts as corresponding to Jesus’ death and resurrection in Luke, with the important difference that death no longer stings – Paul doesn’t die on the sea or from the snake. In terms of Luke’s narrative, death doesn’t have a role to play any more. Jesus’ resurrection changes everything.

But the islanders don’t understand any of that yet. When they see a man crawl out of the sea, only to be bitten by a viper, they conclude that Justice had caught up with Paul after all. They try to interpret providence, but get it wildly wrong. They wait for Paul to swell up and die, but instead, the snake ends up in the fire. Having found a man who can defeat death, the islanders next conclude that Paul is a god, and now they’re closer to the truth. The God whom Paul serves has indeed defeated death, and through Paul, continues to work against death by administering healing throughout the island.

Sandwiching the story of victory over death and the snake, however, is another important theme. This passage is full of hospitality: “unusual kindness”, “welcome”, “gifts”, and more. The people of Malta must have had Hebrews 13:2 written on their hearts, showing hospitality to these refugees even though they were unaware that God’s messenger was on that ship. And as a result, their whole island was blessed with healing.

This example should prompt us to ask a number of questions: if even pagans show this kind of hospitality, then how should we who have received “unusual kindness” from God think about using our homes? How should we think about welcoming visitors at church? What should our response be to refugees or disaster victims? Should not this example even inform our ideas about immigration? Yes, it is always risky and costly, but welcoming the stranger is essential to biblical hospitality, driven by God’s own hospitality to you: once, you were aliens and strangers, but God made you His own people.

In light of this, I want to address three areas: head, heart and hands.

What to think: Believe and know that hospitality is good and right. When you count the cost of hospitality, realize that God puts His thumb on the scales on the side of blessing. You won’t lose out by sharing your time, your money, your food, or your clothing with the needy. Your hospitality can never bankrupt heaven, even if you try, which I encourage you to do.

What to feel: Feel the welcome of God’s hospitality. What does it do to your heart to know that you are welcome to crash your shipwrecked self onto the shores of God’s mercy? You come with a life wrecked by sin, and God meets you with food and drink, and clothes you in the righteousness of Christ. Come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ!

What to do: You should extend the hospitality of God. God has given His people full and free access to the storehouses of heaven, and hospitality simply means sharing the gifts of God with others. God shows you hospitality to enable you to show hospitality.

Our God is so hospitable that even after we abused His garden in the beginning, He turned around and sent Jesus to renew the world, to change us, and to invite us back into His house again. This is the glory of costly hospitality: the world is made new and you are saved through the unusual kindness of God. Freely you have received; freely give in Jesus’ name.

Posted on Wednesday, August 05, 2015 by CJ Bowen