In our study of Acts chapter twenty eight, we witness the faithfulness of God in delivering His servant through struggles. We will see the purpose for it and apply the promise of it to our lives.
"Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta." NIV translation
The island was called Myletus or Melita at the time but it is what is known as Malta today. Today, most of the population of Malta are Christians but, at the time that Paul landed here, it was pagan natives. We see the faithfulness of God as He has delivered Paul and the crew out of the waters and to the shores of this island just as was promised. That same promise is for us as God's children on a mission in this world today.
We all have pictured pagan natives as being blood-thirsty but, here, we see the favor of God at work once again. The natives welcomed Paul and his companions and made a fire for them. These natives (who had never even heard of Jesus Christ) welcomed 276 people to their home.
"Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand." NIV translation
This one little verse tells us so much about the heart of the apostle Paul. This great apostle was humble enough to get his hands dirty by picking up firewood. There was more than enough people to pick up the wood but Paul did not kick back like a big shot. Instead, he took on the role of the servant just as Jesus had done. There are many people today that are using titles (even the title of apostle) as an excuse for them kicking back and being served by those under them but that is not the pattern that we saw demonstrated in Jesus or, here, in Paul.
This verse has also been wrongly used by many to promote the religious practice of snake handling but that is not what happened here. Many, today, want to knowingly pick up a serpent as a demonstration of their faith and use this verse to say that Paul was doing the same. These people are yielding to the temptation of pride. This is the same sort of temptation that Satan used against Jesus as he tried to get Him to throw Himself from the highest point of the temple (see Luke 4:9). Jesus' answer was that we are not to put God to the test. In the same way, we see that Paul did not intentionally pick up the snake as it was hidden in the pile of sticks and only came out when it was close to the fire. The simple fact of the matter is that Jesus told the eleven apostles that were left after his resurrection that this was going to happen (see Mark 16:18). He did this to reassure them that, no matter what, He was in control and they did not need to fear death and the things of this world.