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Seeds of the Kingdom

From a Murderer to a God!

by Andy Taylor

The people of the island saw it hanging from his hand and said to each other, “A murderer, no doubt! Though he escaped the sea, justice will not permit him to live.”
Acts 28:4, NLT

One of our many human defects is that we make judgements about people based on what we see with our eyes. Today’s story is a classic example of that. Paul had just arrived in Malta (in the days before five-star resorts!) having spent a few weeks being battered around on a ship in the Mediterranean. The locals are kind to the soggy and weary travellers, and make a fire to welcome them.

Paul grabs a bundle of sticks to throw on the fire, but, as he does, a viper launches at him and bites him. It sounds as if the snake was hungry too, because the passage tells us it was fastened to him and dangling from his hand. Yikes! Maybe I’ll stick to camping in Cornwall for my holidays.

The response of the locals is this … ‘No doubt this man is a murderer.’ I mean, where’s the compassion? Where’s the concern for Paul and the fact that he has a snake dangling from him hand? Where’s the help to get the pesky snake off him?

They don’t start with “Oh, that was unfortunate”. They jump right to a judgement – “Yep, must be a murderer”. Why? Well because bad things happen to bad people, right? So, a bad thing happens. Therefore, the person it happened to must be bad. Therefore, we have to work out why they are bad. I imagine ‘murderer’ is just the first guess.

But then the story flips. Paul, unfazed by having a viper chewing on his hand, just shakes it off and into the fire. The locals are watching and waiting. They are expecting Paul to swell up, keel over, and die. But he doesn’t. No harm done. Nothing to see here. All good. So, the locals make a new judgement. No longer is Paul a murderer. Now he is a god!

This is clearly ridiculous but it makes me wonder how much this human defect (of making judgements about people based on what happens to them, or what we see) outworks in our lives. Have we fallen into the trap of thinking that, if good things happen to someone, then they must be blessed, but if bad things happen, then they are under God’s curse because of their sin? Of course, that could be true. But it doesn’t mean it is always true. Tragedy can happen to us all. It also doesn’t mean it is our job to look on and make judgements.

Jesus addressed this in Luke 13:1-5 with both the suffering of the Galileans, and those who were killed when the Tower of Siloam fell on them. He makes it clear that it was not their sin that caused their death.

So, let’s be careful not to judge those around us based on what is happening to them, or what we see. Let’s ask God to give us His heart, His compassion and His love for them. Let’s follow His instruction not to judge, so that we too can avoid being judged (Matthew 7:1).

Andy Taylor is Director of Ellel Grange, UK National Director and is a member of the Executive Leadership of Ellel Ministries. He joined the team in 1991 and has served the Lord at Ellel Ministries centres in the UK, Australia and the USA. Andy is married to Cath and they have three boys.

 

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