Acts 28 includes two stories. The first story is about Paul staying on the island of Malta for three months and then leaving there after the winter to go to Rome. On this island, he supernaturally prevailed against the attack of the viper. He also healed the father of the chief official of the island and other sick people. We don’t understand why Paul lived on this island for three months but didn’t record much of his ministry there. For example, if we are talking about healing people on the island, Paul would be able to lay hands on them and heal them in just a few days. Since Paul was a prisoner, he probably did not have the tools to weave tents as he always did in his profession. While in Malta, did Paul preach the gospel and teach the natives about the Bible? Since details aren’t given, we don’t’ know exactly what he did for those three months.
Three months is a long time. If Paul’s daily life was recorded daily in a diary, it could have been as thick as the Bible. The Bible was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. One written word is worth a thousand pieces of gold. It is the Christian’s instruction manual for life. Though details may be left out, we can be sure that those details were not significant for the future of the church. Verse 11 tells us that they had wintered on the island for three months before setting sail on the Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. The details mentioned in this passage are significant, which is why they were included in the Bible. For example, Castor and Pollux are Greek gods, indicating that ships from Alexandria, Egypt (under the jurisdiction of Ancient Greece) were going to and from Malta. The Greek crew members wintered in Malta for three months, yet the Bible doesn’t say anything about Paul preaching the gospel to them. What did Paul do for those three months?
In the second story, after Paul arrived in Rome, he preached Jesus as a gospel to the Jews, but a dispute arose among them. Then Paul quoted Isaiah saying: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:” ‘Go to this people and say, “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, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (Acts 28:25-28, NIV)
Why did Paul say this? You might remember that in Romans 9-11, Paul recorded his burden for the Jews to be saved, wishing that he would be cursed for the sake that the Jews would be saved (Romans 9:3). And we have witnessed in the previous records of Acts that every time he went to the Jews to preach the gospel, although they did not accept it and chased Paul to persecute him, Paul did not give up. But why is it that he gave up this time?
Remember that the Lord Jesus once said to Paul, “Quick! Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me” (Acts 22:18, NIV). In Acts 22:21 (NIV), Paul also recorded what Jesus said, “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'” So we can see from these two verses that Jesus had told him long ago that the Jews in Jerusalem would not accept his testimony, and that He would be sending Paul to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. But Paul’s mind couldn’t keep up. He was hindered from fully understanding Jesus’ will for him Because of his love for the Jews, his own cultural and religious limitations, perspectives, and personality.
Previously, we’ve talked about whether Paul’s trip to Jerusalem was God’s plan or his own. This is a controversial topic. We reasoned that it could be from God because when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem, Jesus appeared to him and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11, NIV). In addition, some believe that Agabus’ prophecy wasn’t completely accurate. He prophesied that Paul would be bound by the Jews in Jerusalem, but in reality Paul was bound by the Romans in Jerusalem. This could be why some Charismatics who have the gift of prophecy say that Agabus’ prophecy was not accurate. The Bible does say that when Abagus prophesied, he said: “this is what the Holy Spirit says.” Others tried to persuade Paul not to go, but he didn’t listen.
The contradiction here is a theological issue debated by many people. In our study, we looked at it from a different perspective and concluded that perhaps Paul shouldn’t have gone to Jerusalem. If he had understood Jesus’ telling him to forego Jerusalem and go directly to Rome to preach the gospel, he might have avoided being shipwrecked and imprisoned. However, Paul was human like us and had his own perspective about what he should do. Human perspective can hinder or interfere with God’s leading. Witness Lee said that man’s perspective is what hinders following God and spiritual growth the most. We gleaned from this chapter that Paul finally understood God’s leading and plan after going through the storm and subsequent shipwreck from Jerusalem to Rome. He understood that the Jews wouldn’t accept his testimony and shifted his ministry’s focus from the Jews to the Gentiles. We see this at the end of Acts 28 when it said, “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ –with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28:30-31, NIV). These verses confirm that Paul completely refocused his attention on the Gentiles in Rome and God’s move among the gentile nations and evangelizing Europe.
As we finished Acts 28, it seemed that the chapter abruptly ended, and some of our bible study members asked why. We eventually concluded that the ending of this chapter is spiritually significant.
We can compare a person’s journey from accepting God’s call to completing it with Paul’s journey from Jerusalem to Rome. God officially called Paul on the road to Damascus, yet he said that God had set him apart from his mother’s womb. In turn, we can say he was called from Jerusalem. God wanted him to go to Rome and evangelize Europe, but the journey was difficult, and Paul didn’t follow God’s will initially.
Malta was a turning point for Paul. He stayed there for three months, yet the Bible leaves out the details of that time period. Rome isn’t far away, but the winter weather restricts the ships from sailing. Neither Paul nor the ship’s captain and crew can leave. God arranged these circumstances, and here is the spiritual significance that we see. We believe that during that three months with nothing to do, Paul spent much of his time in prayer and reflected on his journey from Jerusalem to Rome. He might have thought of God’s instructions that he leave Jerusalem as soon as possible because his testimony to the Jews wouldn’t be accepted. Jesus was clear when he told Paul to go to the Gentiles to preach the gospel, but Paul’s mind was focused elsewhere. He insisted on going to Jerusalem, causing many uproars. Perhaps during this reflection time and prayer, his attitude changed. He may have questioned whether he fully understood God’s leading and instead embarked on his own path. Paul may have had some regret and felt discouraged, knowing that he wasn’t fully cooperating with what God wanted.
Acts 28:13-15 (NIV) says that when Paul arrived in Puteoli, fellow believers greeted him. Some traveled thirty-forty miles from Rome as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three taverns to meet him when they heard he was coming. Paul thanked God and was encouraged when he saw them. One lady in our study questioned this, saying, “Wasn’t Paul always strong and courageous?” Why was he encouraged when these people met him? I suggested that maybe this confirms that Paul might have had self-doubt and misgivings while reflecting in Malta.
Jesus said to his disciples while He was on earth, “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” (NIV, Matthew 10:5-6). Jesus’ command to the twelve apostles was not the same command He gave to Paul. In other words, it was the leading of God’s previous move, not the leading of His new move.
Our own perspective often gets in the way of what God wants to do. Bill Johnson, a Charismatic pastor in California, said, “Every new move of God is often persecuted by the people used by God in His previous move.” What people knew and experienced in a previous move of God often keeps them from accepting something new or different in the next move of God. Because things in the new move look different, people will react negatively, saying it’s not of God or even go so far as to say it’s from the enemy. Personal opinions can hinder God’s spirit from moving. We can see the cycle if we look to the past, from Martin Luther’s reformation, which was persecuted by the Catholic Church to the Anabaptists who were persecuted by the reformed. Lastly, even within the Pentecostal Movement, newer movements are persecuted by previous movements. It was the same story without exception. Paul was human with his own perceptions and shortcomings. God often has to deal with people’s perceptions and natural inclinations. The relationship between God and man is like two people trying to run together with their legs tied. God is often running faster than we can keep up. He has to wait for people to understand his leading or eventually let them deal with the consequences of their own choices. This is what happened to Paul. Jesus told Paul to leave Jerusalem and go to the Gentiles to preach the gospel, but he didn’t listen. God had no choice but to remind him through the Holy Spirit’s prophecy. Paul insisted on going, so God waited patiently. Despite his stubbornness, Jesus appeared to him and encouraged him in prison. 2 Thessalonians 3:5 (NIV) is a verse that talks about the patience of Jesus Christ. “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” It seems like Paul prayed this out of his own experience of Jesus’s patience with him.
Jesus Christ is not only like that to Paul. He’s also like that to us. I shared one of my experiences to help our Bible study members understand the inspiration I received.
I was saved in the Local Church Movement, a conservative Christian group that values spiritual growth in life. At that time, my only thought was to serve the members of our church. I had no thoughts of serving in American churches or churches in other parts of the world. I focused my life on serving Chinese scholars in the United States and teaching them the gospel within the Local Church Movement. It never entered my mind that I would leave my church to fellowship with and learn about the Charismatic church and eventually pursue the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Everything changed mainly because my wife and I were dealing with ten years of infertility. I prayed every day in 2014, asking God to heal us, but there was no answer. In 2015 I began to seek help from other churches outside the Local Church Movement. I really wanted help from our own church and attended a special meeting in California in the summer of 2015. This was the last meeting of the Local Church Movement that I attended. We didn’t get the help we needed for our infertility problem. Even though my mindset was inseparable from the Local Church Movement’s teachings, God silently led me out of our church to learn about healing and prophecy in the Pentecostal Movement. I personally heard God tell me when we would have a child, and in the end, it happened!
Looking back on this, my experience is similar to Paul’s at Malta. 2015 was my spiritual Malta. In one way, I hoped that the Local Church Movement could help us with our infertility problem, but they don’t teach about the gift of healing or prophecy, so they couldn’t help us. The Holy Spirit began to lead me to the Charismatics teachings online and to attend their healing and prophetic conferences. I struggled inside with being a part of two completely different church movements. In 2015, every day at the park, I was praying at noon, asking God what I should do to move forward spiritually. Part of me felt like God wanted me to leave the Local Church Movement, but I loved my church and its people. I was worried about hurting those who loved and cared about me. In addition, because of how deeply they influenced me, I didn’t want to hurt the body of Christ in general by leaving.
Later, God showed me something that inspired me. In a vision, He showed me a tributary of the Yangtze River that originated in the Himalayas. Then I saw a downstream tributary. He told me that he put me on the first tributary and now has moved me to the second. As long as I followed the Holy Spirit’s leading, I could live in unity in the body of Christ. He also said that I would never go back to the Himalayas, but the river in the Himalayas will join me downstream. This was very encouraging. In another dream, Jesus appeared to me, telling me that the two rivers would converge, which confirmed this vision.
It was only when I looked back at this period of history that I was able to see how God was leading me. He led me to the Local Church Movement to learn how to pursue spiritual life and study the Bible. It was also Him that led me to the Pentecostal Movement to learn the gifts and receive the baptism and power of the Holy Spirit. These two rivers will converge and produce God’s new move – holiness and power will converge; the word of God and the Spirit of God will converge; the fruits of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit will converge. God also told me that He wanted to take me out of the Local Church Movement because He wanted me to serve Chinese churches on a larger scale, participate in the great revival of China, and serve churches in the United States and other countries. He challenged me to start my own ministry, another area that the Local Church Movement didn’t encourage. In 2016 besides telling me that we would have a child that year, he confirmed that Jairus Bible world Ministry came from Him.
All of this far outweighed what I was taught in the Local Church movement. I would never have imagined that God would lead me in this way. So, when I was struggling and hesitating in 2015, God was waiting patiently for me to catch up to him. God led me to leave the Local Church Movement to study the Pentecostal Movement. During this process, I had to break through my perceptions, and many of the concepts that the Local Church Movement taught me. God recovered and encouraged many truths from his word through the Local Church Movement as well as the Pentecostal Movement. I learned many rich truths and life lessons through the Local Church movement that would benefit every believer. However, many see this movement and Witness Lee as heretical and have rejected their teaching altogether. I’ve shared with fellow Pentecostal believers the truth and practice of “calling on the name of the Lord, pray-reading the Lord’s Word, praying, studying, reciting, and prophesying,” and most were curious and open.
Today, whether we are talking about believers in the Local Church Movement or those who condemn them, we shouldn’t allow personal perceptions to divide us. The same would be true of those who have negative attitudes towards the Pentecostal Movement. The walls of division must come down. Much of the time, it isn’t that others don’t know the truth. Instead, narrowmindedness prevents us from understanding each other. What you see taught in other churches may not be heresy or evil spirits. It could be that your own limitations and perceptions prevent you from accepting truths that others know and practice.
We are now entering an era of a great revival. We urgently need believers of different churches to break their prejudices and enter the new era of God’s convergence. Only in this way can God’s will be better achieved.
That was the inspiration we received from reading Acts 28. Paul eventually broke through his perceptions and plans through the arduous journey from Jerusalem to Rome. Finally, he entered into God’s plan for his life, preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. Although it seems like the book of Acts came to an abrupt end, it was actually perfect. God completed his plan of leading Paul from Jerusalem to Rome, taking him from where he was called to the end of his mission. At this point, Paul fully understood God’s will and was on the path of evangelizing Europe. This is why the Holy Spirit didn’t need to write more on this. God’s leading through the circumstances Paul went through brought him to the right place at the right time so Paul could follow through with his mission.
Today, the Spirit of God continues to work on us as believers, helping us to break out of our own perceptions in our spiritual Malta. Once our spirits and minds are open, we can enter into the plan that God prepared for us long before. We are not waiting for God; He is patiently waiting for us.