Acts 28:1-10 – Natural Evil and a Superstition Problem
Diving Deeper Lesson Outline for Acts 28:1-10
1) PAUL A MURDERER?
You are a murderer:
Acts 28:4–5 (ESV) — 4 When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.
- Justice here refers to the god of Justice.
- She “served in literature and art to inform Zeus of evils which humans do and to punish injustice” – TDNT.
- The idea is that Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake to punish him for murder.
- And why did they think he was a murderer? – because he was bitten by a snake.
Acts 28:6 (ESV) — 6 They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.
- Evidently the following chain of logic was in play:
- Ship Wreck + Poisonous Snake + Snake Bite + death = you are a murderer.
- Ship Wreck + Poisonous Snake + Snake Bite + life = you are a god.
What are some present day examples of this logic at work?
- Earthquake + Haiti + voodoo = God’s judgment
- Hurricane Katrina + New Orleans + Mardi Gras = God’s judgment
- Tsunami + Thailand + Pagan = God’s judgment
Our text from Acts and our present day examples raise an important question.
When natural evil wreaks havoc is it divine punishment for sin?
Jesus addresses this question, and as we will see, His answer may not be what we wanted to hear.
But first, we need to define Natural Evil.
What is Natural Evil?
Natural Evil is evil that occurs as a result of natural processes.
This is to distinguish it from Moral Evil which results from the actions of human-beings.
- Natural Evil raises the following problem:
- If God is all-good, he would destroy evil.
- If God is all-powerful, he could destroy evil.
- But evil is not destroyed.
- Therefore, such a God (all-good and all-powerful) does not exist.
In our text from the Book of Acts, we find an example of an attempt to counter this argument.
- Natural Evil exists because it is God’s judgment.
- The victim of Natural Evil, in this case Paul, has brought it on himself.
It is not my aim here to grapple in depth with the philosophical arguments and implications of Natural Evil.
- But, simply to understand what purpose it might serve.
- Now, let’s turn to Jesus and see what he says.
The J-Bomb on Natural Evil:
Luke 13:4–5 (ESV) —4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
- They wanted to know why “those 18” died in the tower collapse.
- The implication here is, of course, that they died because they were the “worse offenders in Jerusalem”.
- And so therefore their deaths were explained as judgment for their sins.
Jesus’ answer was as definitive as any he has given – NO.
- They did not die because they were the “worse offenders”.
- However, he never said why they died.
Let’s look at another example from Jesus.
John 9:1–7 (ESV) — 1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
- They wanted to know why “a blind man from birth” was so cursed.
- The implication here is, of course, that he was born blind because either he or is parents sinned.
- And so therefore his blindness was explained as judgment of this sin.
Jesus’ answer here was also definitive – “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents”.
- He was not born blind because of anyone’s sin.
- Here Jesus does reveal the purpose of the man’s blindness.
So Jesus suggests to us two purposes for Natural Evil:
“Repent” or “you will all likewise perish”.
- Natural Evil (the 18 who died), at the very least, should serve to point us to our own sin and need for redemption.
- Natural Evil, as a “wretched disfigurement” of Paradise, is a mirror to show us the “wretched disfigurement” and mortality of our physical body.
- Just as the 10 commandments are a mirror to show us our moral depravity before God,
- So as nature is cursed and needs redemption; our flesh is cursed and needs redemption.
“That the works of God might be displayed in him.”
- Natural Evil (the blind man), was an occasion for God to glorify Himself.
- And in the blind man’s case, Jesus literally glorified Himself as “the light of the world” by bringing light to the blind man’s optic nerves.
- The works of God might be displayed in more than just physical healing.
In our discussion last week on Jonah and the U.S.S. Rebellion, which of the above are two reasons applicable and why?
Both are clearly in view.
- Jonah 2:6–7 (ESV) — 6 …you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. 7 When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.
- Jonah repented.
- Jonah 1:16 (ESV) — 16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.
- God is glorified.
In Paul’s battle with Natural Evil (the storm, shipwreck and snake bite), which of the above two reasons are applicable and why?
God was clearly glorified Himself through Paul.
- Acts 27:22–25 (ESV) — 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.
- Acts 27:35–36 (ESV) — 35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves.
- Acts 28:8–9 (ESV) — 8 It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him healed him. 9 And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.
We should be careful in our public discourse:
John 7:24 (ESV) — 24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.
Under the new covenant ushered in by Jesus, He gives no indication that we are to spend our time speculating whether or not a specific occurrence of Natural Evil is a specific act of judgment.
- The Book of Job also makes this clear.
- This is not to say that it isn’t or can’t be, however, but that the Natural Evil event’s purpose is not dependent on this knowledge.
What harm can come by speculating on Natural Evil and judgment?
- We disobey the leading of Jesus Christ’s example.
- The focus becomes what we claim to know instead of what we are (in need of repentance) or who God is (the one to be glorified).
- To misdirect the focus is to misstep and “judge by appearances”.
- To judge Natural Evil with “right judgment” is to follow Jesus’ lead.