This closing chapter of the book of Acts commences with the survival of those from the shipwreck after the harrowing storm they endured, tossed to and fro at the mercy of the raging sea. They were shipwrecked on an unknown island, mercifully preserved and at length cast up on the seashore. It was a most welcome thing to be received by the people of the island, a fire to be kindled and shelter from the present rain. After such an ordeal we see something of the stamina of the apostle, not merely to be resting and recovering from what he had endured, but rather to be out gathering sticks to add to the fire for the comfort of the others. When thrown on the fire, a viper, which had been lodged on one of the sticks, rose up and fastened onto his hand. Much to the surprise of the natives who expected instant death from the bite, they thought due to an angry providence for a murderer, even though he had escaped from the sea. As the time passed and no ill effects were noticed they changed their minds about him that he was not a murderer as first thought, but a god. The Lord had told Paul that he would bear testimony at Rome also, so neither storm nor serpent could hinder the Divine decree, Rome was the goal. After some months there and being used of the Lord in healing among the inhabitants, which would also include proclaiming the gospel message, he moved on towards Rome.
Isaiah 50:10-11. "Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God. Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow." There is certainly much to be learned from these verses for the child of God. Who feareth the Lord, and obeyeth the voice of his servant, yet walketh in darkness and hath no light? There are very dark times that come into the lives of Christians, and perhaps more so in recent events. It may be sickness, disease, loss of employment, assembly difficulties or death that has taken away a loved one and the burning question in many hearts is, why? There seems to be no way out, but in the midst of the trial these words of encouragement come. Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God. We sometimes sing, "when all around my soul gives way, He then is all my strength and stay." Here is the anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast. How much better to be in darkness, difficult though it may be yet conscious of Godís presence, than trying to go in oneís own strength. We have the great example of the true servant of Jehovah found in this chapter. Who experienced darkness like he did in Gethsemane and at Golgotha? He stayed upon his God even in the reproach of men energized by Satan while on the cross. "He trusted on the LORD that He would deliver him: let Him deliver him, seeing He delighted in him" (Psalm 22:6).
In contrast to this, the warning is given to those who kindle a fire and compass themselves in the sparks of it. To walk in such uncertain light, as many of the world try to do to find their own way, the outcome of such a path will be to lie down in sorrow. At best it is a flickering kind of light and though the sparks may rise up around them with a brief light, the outcome will be disappointing.
Luke 22:54-61. In this little section of Lukeís gospel we have the record of Peterís denial of his Lord. While he had steadfastly maintained that such would never happen to him the details are given here. We read that he followed afar off on the way to the high priestís palace. On arrival there, the Lord was in the hands of religious men. They kindled a fire in the court and gathered round it in those night hours. Peter joins the company and soon becomes the object of their scrutiny and inquiry. Through the rising smoke and flickering flames, those men suspiciously eye him at the fire. He is about to learn that there is not much comfort at the worldís fire. First a girl questions him, then twice more by others there accusing him that he was one of the number. His speech gave him away. Peter vehemently denied his relationship with the Lord, and said that he knows not the man. On the third occasion, the sound of the crowing cock was heard in his ears confirming what the Lord had told him. Then last of all, the Lord turned and looked on him. This is what finally broke Peter in true contrition and tears. There was more in that look than all the looks of those around the fire. "Twas that look that melted Peter." He had been in Satanís sieve, but the Lordís intercession delivered him and maintained his faith.
John 21: 1-14. This closing chapter of Johnís gospel opens with some of the disciples going fishing and ends with empty nets after a fruitless night of fishing. In the morning Jesus stood on the shore and asked them if they had any meat. They are instructed to cast the net on the right side of the boat with the resulting net full of great fishes. John immediately recognizes it is his Lord. Peter immediately jumps into the sea to go to Him. The others come in a little ship dragging the net of fishes with them. On the shore there is a fire kindled with bread and fishes upon it. How different from the worldís fire where there is no warmth or sustenance. The Lord invites them to come and dine with Him on that early morning as the sun was rising. It is at this fire that the restoration and commission of Peter takes place. Three times the Lord inquires of Peter as to his love. Three times he had denied Him, and over against this there is the commandment given to him to "feed my sheep and my lambs." It was grieving to Peter to be probed like this, but we have an example here that wrongs cannot be glossed over. A dislocated joint is a painful thing in the body, and to restore it can be very painful at the time. But with skillful hands, the physician can carefully restore relief to the sufferer. The results of this are seen later in the life of the beloved apostle in his preaching on the day of Pentecost and in the early part of the book of Acts.
How well he fulfilled the commission is recorded in the two epistles that bear his name.
James 3:1-12. There is a familiar and true saying in the world, "Fire is a good servant, but a bad master." This can be readily seen from this very practical section of the epistle of James. He gives the warning in the opening verse, "be not many masters or teachers for such would receive the greater condemnation." This is followed with the quotation, "if any offend not in word, the same is a perfect man and able to bridle the whole body." Further down in verse five we have a solemn word, "Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth." I am sure most would have to admit to their sorrow that we have offended with our tongues. Applying this to the teachers of verse one, we can see how much good or ill is in the power of the tongue when a man gets up to speak. How quickly wrong teaching like the little fire can spread so quickly with devastating results.
In the natural realm, great forests are often consumed by a little carelessness. A small fire that is left unattended is picked up by the wind and soon it is burning out of control. Wrong teaching is soon picked up and to try and undo what has been done is often a difficult and painful task. Not only can this be seen in the public forum, but also within assemblies, a few wrong words in the heat of the moment are most damaging.
Going on to the family sphere, many rifts have occurred in this way and remain for years afterwards. We need to pray like the psalmist. "Set a watch, 0 LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips" (Psalm 141:3). On the other hand how much good can be done with the tongue, in our praise to the Lord. Or in teaching, goodly words spoken can be of great encouragement to build up the saints. If there is a danger of conflict with our brethren, the example of Gideon when challenged by the men of Ephraim is so fitting. He took the humble place and gave greater glory to them, stating what he had done was very little in comparison to their achievements.
The Bride spoke of the Bridegroom, "His mouth is most sweet" (Song of Songs 6:16). The psalmist in Psalm 45:1, "My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer." The heart and the tongue are in complete harmony when occupied with Christ.