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Monday, May 4, 2009

Snakes and Sticks

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. Acts 28:3 (New American Standard Bible)

As a prisoner of Rome, Paul was being taken by ship to appeal his arrest to Caesar himself. On the way his ship encountered a fierce Mediterranean storm and was battered by winds and waves for two weeks. Finally the ship ran aground on the island of Malta and all 276 persons aboard survived. Soaked to the skin, cold and hungry the tired group was immediately taken under the care of the local Maltase who built fires to warm them and care for their needs. While gathering firewood, Paul was bitten on the hand by a poisonous snake. Paul shook the viper into the fire and went on as before showing no ill effects from the venomous bite. The locals were amazed.

For many years the miracle after the snake bite was the slant I gave the story when I read it; a miracle for Paul and a witness of God’s power to unbelievers. One day as I was sharing this with a friend he said in passing, “I think the real miracle was that the great Apostle Paul was gathering firewood and serving the needs of the others.” I chewed on that one for awhile and came to the conclusion my friend had been on to something there. Didn’t Jesus say to let the person who wanted to be the greatest be the servant of all (Luke 22:26)?

Great people expect to have done for them and not to condescend to any task below their station. The example of Paul humbling himself to gather wood for a fire was mirrored in the examples of Jesus as how the King of Glory humbly washed the feet of His disciples when they should have been kneeling at His; how Jesus humbly created a fire on a beach and cooked breakfast for them showing the True Servant’s Heart. Truly the ground at the foot of the cross is level. There are no superstars in the kingdom of God although there are some who think they are and expect that if firewood is to be gathered someone else ought to do it. There is more than just a calling to esteem others higher than ourselves; there is the example of our Lord Jesus Himself and the great men and women of faith who humbled themselves and displayed the greatest courage in being faithful in the menial tasks. A miracle healing from a snake bite or gathering sticks to warm and comfort others? In the eyes of Jesus I wonder which situation would give Him the greater pleasure. I think I know.