1 Chronicles 11:1-25; Acts 28:1-16; Psalms 9:9-12; Proverbs 3:27-32
NT: “Once safely ashore, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The local people showed us extraordinary kindness. They lit a fire and took us all in, since it was raining and cold. As Paul gathered a bundle of brushwood and put it on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand. When the local people saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “This man, no doubt, is a murderer. Even though he has escaped the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” But he shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no harm. They expected that he would begin to swell up or suddenly drop dead. After they waited a long time and saw nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. Now in the area around that place was an estate belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us hospitably for three days. Publius’s father was in bed suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went to him, and praying and laying his hands on him, he healed him. After this, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed. So they heaped many honors on us, and when we sailed, they gave us what we needed.” (Acts 28:1-10 CSB)
While storm-tossed at sea for two weeks, The Lord spoke to Paul and told him not to fear, for it was necessary for him to stand before Caesar in Rome. Soon afterward, Paul was shipwrecked on the island of Malta and God graciously spared the life of Paul and all who were aboard. You would have thought that was enough, and that Paul would be able to arrive safely in Rome – but the enemy wasn’t through trying to stop God’s purposes and plan. As Paul was serving his crewmen by gathering wood for the fire, a poisonous viper came out of the bundle of wood he dropped on the fire and latched on to his hand. The island natives were sure that Paul would die – but he didn’t. God’s word given to Paul was still alive, and not even the poisonous bite of a serpent could keep it from coming to pass. In fact, Paul’s miraculous deliverance from the serpent opened the door for him to minister the grace and glory of God to all the inhabitants of the island. The promise that Jesus gave in Mark 16:17-18 became a reality for Paul. As long as Paul remained in Christ and following Christ’s word, will, and ways; no matter where Paul went, no matter the dangers he faced, no matter how his life was threatened, he was safe. One really important point of clarification: Paul didn’t test that promise. He didn’t intentionally put himself in harms way… he didn’t intentionally do something foolish… he didn’t intentionally pick up a poisonous snake to test God’s promise. He simply believed God’s promise and through that belief, obeyed everything the Lord led Him to do and said everything the Lord led him to say – and in His obedience, in his going… in his doing… in his saying, his life was preserved until God’s purposes were complete. All along the way, as Paul laid down his life time and time again, God was glorified and God’s grace was poured out through the life of Paul.
Psalms: “The Lord is a refuge for the persecuted, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you because you have not abandoned those who seek you, Lord. Sing to the Lord, who dwells in Zion; proclaim his deeds among the nations. For the one who seeks an accounting for bloodshed remembers them; he does not forget the cry of the oppressed.” (Psalms 9:9-12 CSB)
The word for refuge here means a high and exalted place that is out of the reach of those who are pursuing you – an elevated place where you have the advantage of position and perspective. The word translated here as ‘persecuted’ is translated in other translations as ‘oppressed’ and it refers to those who are crushed, dejected, inured and afflicted. The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, dejected, and afflicted. The Lord is a refuge in times of distress and trouble. When adversaries or situations are pressing down on us and pressing in on us from every side, causing us to be severely distressed and in trouble; if we seek the Lord… if we cry out to Him… if we sing out the songs of hope that we have in Him, He will lift us up out of the oppression and set us on a high place – a place where we have the vantage: a place of strategic advantage, commanding perspective, and a comprehensive view; from which we are able to fight on in the strength of the Lord and prevail. Those who know the Lord – who have cultivated an intimate relationship with the Lord through prayer, praise and worship in the secret place – trust in the Lord and know what it is to find refuge in Him.
Today is Martin Luther King Jr. day in the United States. You can say what you will about MLK Jr. He wasn’t a perfect man, but what he did have was a knowledge of the Lord God that developed in him an unwavering trust in the Lord God. He was a man who knew what it was to be persecuted and oppressed, but he was also a man who knew what it was to find refuge in God in the midst of the oppression and distress. Out of that place of refuge… out of that high and safe place… from that vantage point he had in Christ, he was able to see beyond himself and have a God-sized dream. Because he found refuge in the Lord, he was able to lead others out of oppression and into victory, singing the songs of hope along the way. For those of you who feel dejected… who have been persecuted… who are being oppressed – know that God does not forget your cries. Trust in Him. Take refuge in Him, and let Him lead you out of oppression and into freedom and victory through faith in Christ His son.