“And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.” Acts 28:3-6
The Apostle Paul had already endured a great many trials and persecutions by this point in his missionary journeys. He had learned, however, that Christ, Who was his Rock and his sure Foundation, would carry him through anything and everything as he was doing the Lord’s work. These barbarians had never heard of Christ, and were still living superstitious lives. They only understood the world from the point of view of things seen, but Paul was here to show them those things unseen. Notice what happens in this passage. Paul is doing the simple task of collecting fuel for the fire which all share for comfort from the cold. He has yet to witness to the barbarians. He is simply doing his part, without grumbling, to help out the collective. That is important to note, because Christ said to us that we were chosen to be apart from the world, but to still live among the world. The idea is that our lives are to be different, so much so that others will have a hard time not noticing.
So, as he is doing his part, he gets bitten by a venomous snake, which latches onto his hand. This snake not only bites, but it holds on. Of course, the natives notice this. A simple bite and release may have gone completely unnoticed. It is interesting how the Lord works. It is natural for a snake to bite in defense when disturbed and release to retreat to safety. A snake usually only bites and holds when it is trying to subdue it’s prey. Further, venomous snakes generally bite and release to allow the toxins they inject to do the work of killing. So, through the snake holding on, God ensures that the natives see the snake on Paul’s hand. May I encourage you to know that if you are in a trial that has been extensive in time frame, perhaps there is someone God has in mind to witness your trial and draw them closer through it still.
In their superstitious minds, this was most definitely an omen, since Paul had just survived a shipwreck only to be bitten by the deadly viper. They thought for sure that he must be some sort of evil person who has committed something bad to be treated in such a way. “What goes around comes around” is what this sounds like, and these natives may have believed in karma or something similar, which is totally unscriptural. Vengeance is the Lord’s and so, if there is to be consequences for our sins, it is the Lord Who will give it, not “karma” and not the negative energy of the universe. At any rate, look at how they view Paul. They see him as evil. The world sees people struggling in their lives and they finger point. They tell one another that it must be deserved, or that if they don’t want those things to happen, they need to think positively to get a better outcome. But, nothing could be further from the Truth. God says that it rains on the sinner and the saint alike. He says that we all will go through diverse trials and tribulations and will be tempted greatly.
But Paul, seeing this as nothing in comparison to eternal glory in Heaven where there will be no more tears, no suffering, and no sorrow, shakes the thing off. Just like the three Hebrew children were resigned to die should that be the Lord’s will, so was Paul. There was no worry in him about this at all. Not only that, but the Holy Spirit had told him he was going to witness in Rome, and Paul, not yet there, believed. So, he stood by his faith in Jesus. He stood in Christ and Him crucified.
We see this played out in the wilderness when Israel was marching around those forty years. There came a day when God was angry with them and so He sent fiery serpents among them. When they cried out to Moses, Moses prayed to the Lord on their behalf to be saved. God answered by telling him to make a brass serpent and hang it on a pole, and all who had been bitten would look upon it and be healed, saved from certain death. (Num 6) Paul was looking upon the actual Way of Salvation of which that Old Testament example was a type. He had his heart set on the Cross, and he was unshaken, unscathed, and steadfast.
And what happened? The barbarians studied him, expecting, at some point, that he would swell up and keel over dead, just like every other person they had ever seen did when bitten by this particular kind of snake. They waited. They watched. They waited some more. They watched some more. They were so sure that he was going to die, that they “looked a great while” for this to happen. But it never did.
The Holy Spirit is calling out to God’s children today, right here, right now. We are all going through something. Whatever it is, it may feel like an individual trial, but someone else is going through something very similar, and as a Body, we all are going through a trial. We are one Body. We must bear one another’s burdens and share in one another’s joys. As the Body of Christ, we are called to overcome. He calls us to share in His triumph, and in His joy. No matter the circumstance, no matter the trial, we have victory in the Cross, and we need to keep our faith there and walk with our heads held high, trusting the only One Who can change anything, Christ Jesus. The world is watching us, and many people have not yet come to Jesus because of what they have seen in Christians who have fallen, or who are not living victorious lives. If they see the same general reactions to the day’s strife as they themselves experience, then there is no reason for them to desire to have what we have, for in their mind, and by their own eyes, we have nothing. If we are saved, and we truly believe Christ overcame the world, then we need to count it all joy. In anything and everything we experience, we are to live steadily joyful lives before all men. We represent Christ, and Jesus walked with confidence in the Father, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Our testimonies are the lives we walk. We know that the world seeks God, for we were once of the world. But now, we have the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and hold us up. We needs exhibit lives that are changed, and that have the fruit of the Spirit! That fruit attracts men. We need to exhibit it, and share it in all that we say and do. We cannot speak the gospel of peace and not trust in it within our own lives. The hypocrisy will turn others away. We need to be more than they expect, and all that God expects. We aren’t looking for attention to ourselves, but point it always to God. They will ask us what is different, or how can we be the way we are? That is when we can introduce them to Jesus.
Walk with God. Be transformed before the sight of men. Shake off the little things with eyes on the prize set forth in Christ Jesus. Let God witness to all people through us, that they might change their minds about the way they view the world, and come to know Christ Jesus.