Paul the Roman Citizen (sermon text version)

History is in the process of being rewritten all over our planet. Artifacts destroyed. Landmarks bombed. Books burned. Events are being rewritten whether Columbus or Creation. Whether the Jewish Holocaust or Soviet expansion. History—without landmarks and without accurate retelling—risks becoming a thing like mythology for people to pass off as nothing. Truth–and the freedom it brings—without being defended and protected….is as Ronald Reagan once famously said,

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.

Likewise, our Christian faith isn’t passed along by genetics. We must fight to keep it pure so that we can hand historic Christianity on to the next generation or like freedom, it will be one generation away from becoming extinct.

In today’s Scriptures, Paul faces the issue of contemporary culture: How do we live as dual citizens of earth and heaven?

Last week in our adventures of the earliest disciples Paul was retelling his conversion story. He talked about how he’d been a Jew of Jews, zealous as any of them, and how he had been persecuting Christians. Then there was the shocking event on the road to Damascus when Paul saw the Risen Lord, not just a vision, not just a dream, but an actual seeing of the last of the Resurrection appearances of Jesus. That event forever changed Paul. There were no more excuses. He saw the Light…in more ways than one.

Paul wanted to tell his own people, the Jews, how they’d been mistaken! He wanted to correctly pass along history! He wanted to save his Hebrew brethren from further persecuting followers of their very own Jewish Messiah. God told Paul that they wouldn’t accept his testimony … but Paul responded by asserting all the reasons why they should believe him…essentially, who better than Paul? He’d been one of their number hating Christians, but now he wanted to share with them what he wished he’d understood back then.

Then the shocking answer of God is No. I’m sending you to the Gentiles.

The “Men of Israel” crowd listening to Paul has been right there with him probably saying Amen! Until Paul’s fateful words. Paul shares that whole God-was-sending-him-to-the-Gentiles thing. And then Boom. You could hear the deafening sound of many ears closing simultaneously.

21 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'” 22 The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”

Worse, even though they’d been all ears, now they’re all convinced he’s lying, and moreover he is a Christian and Christians don’t deserve to live. Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!

I’ve been boo-ed before. It’s not pleasant. But no one…to my face at least…has suggested that I be eliminated from planet Earth. That’s a negative reaction to the extreme. For Paul, it’s a backhanded compliment to his excellence as a speaker and a true witness for Christ.

23 As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered Paul to be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and questioned in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this.

ordinary people smMob justice is not a pretty thing. The crowd is shouting at the top of their lungs that Paul ought to die—they’re unruly and throwing a fit—but Paul is the one taken into custody. He is the one to be flogged and questioned. The assumption was that the crowd was right in all their shouting. That Paul must have done something wrong or the crowd wouldn’t be angry.

Interesting isn’t it, that in cases of many-against-one, it’s often assumed that those in the majority are right and the minority is always wrong?

A friend this past week faced opposition from one of her friends who was publically pointing out that no one was agreeing with this friend of mine, that she was standing basically alone, and no one was supporting her. The attack was grounded in that same concept. If someone stands alone, attack them, because if they’re alone, that means they’re wrong. A crowd somehow always shows who is right.

But Jesus says the opposite is true. Truth is not a numbers game where a simple majority wins. It’s not American Idol or Dancing with the Stars or Beat Bobby Flay.

Sometimes the loneliest and hardest path is the narrow gate of faith and integrity….and we walk it ….alone.

Matthew 7:13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

It’s really easy to get a crowd to believe lies. It’s much harder to get them to acknowledge the truth. The harder the truth, the fewer the number who will accept it.

Paul is going to be beaten again, until he reveals something else about himself. Not his Jewish credentials this time, however. He’s not just a Hebrew in his citizenship. He’s not just a citizen of Tarsus, or even just a citizen of heaven as a Christian. He’s got more than dual or triple citizenship:

25 As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”

paul roman citizen rightsPaul knows and the centurion knows that it is not legal to flog a Roman citizen without a trial.

Paul is a very bright guy. He knows his rights, but he handles things in a very above board way. He doesn’t scream and shout. He doesn’t protest or demand his rights or threaten to sue. He asks a simple question that makes the flogging they’re about to do something that could get them in a lot of trouble. It will spare him being scourged, whipped with the same kind of whip they used on Jesus.

And moreover, it will spare the centurion and the other floggers from the deep trouble they would have been in for using such tactics as a method of questioning.

Because you see, it was a big deal that Paul was a Roman citizen and he hadn’t even been granted a trial. A right of citizenship.

26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.” 27 The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” “Yes, I am,” he answered. 28 Then the commander said, “I had to pay a big price for my citizenship.” “But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied.

There were a couple of ways of gaining Roman citizenship. One was to spend at least 25 years on the front lines of military service and after you retired honorably provided you were still alive, you would be granted citizenship as a thank you for putting Rome first. Another way was to pay an exorbitant sum of money and purchase it through a bribe. Those were not the most prestigious ways to become a citizen. The third way was to born into it. Paul had inherited his by birth. His father was a Roman citizen. Which meant that his father either performed some meritorious act of service to Rome, or was from elite class of people. Paul didn’t buy his citizenship, he was born into it.

29 Those who were about to question him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.

Paul’s legitimate citizenship meant that Paul should never even have been chained. The commander was understandably alarmed. The commander had broken the law whereas Paul had done nothing wrong other than to be singled out by an unruly mob…for his Christian faith.

Here’s the problem of contemporary culture: How do we live as good Christians when faced with bad governing?

Many people in American Christendom these days reject the way we are being governed. Who runs the government? A bunch of unrepentant sinners, liars, greedy dysfunctional hypocrites and bureaucrats, and the logical conclusion is that the government does not do… what God says… the government actually does. Romans 13:1-7 outlines very clearly our relationship to the government. In one word, submission.

Romans 13:1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

Submitting to authority isn’t always easy, but it’s always right.

But that doesn’t mean we should surrender even what authority we do have. Paul didn’t. He was a Roman citizen and that meant that he had certain rights under the law. To use Paul’s Roman citizenship card and to make the authorities aware of it so they could use their authority well and avoid breaking the law themselves was an act of grace.

Paul had done nothing wrong. To have accepted an unnecessary beating because it would somehow prove to the world how great Paul is to suffer for Christ…or to have avoided disclosing his Roman citizenship until he could have done vengeance upon the commander would not have been a good use of his authority. Two wrongs don’t make a right. And sometimes, in Christian circles, the government can be our friend. It’s hard to accept sometimes, especially when we see all the wrong governments can do, especially to Christians these days, but we must always remember that the Bible teaches very clearly “there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

Admittedly, it’s a tough one. Why? Because governing authorities, while established by God, don’t always do godly things in a sinful world.

Supreme Courts make bad decisions. Presidents, senators, and congressmen fail us. Principals, teachers, and yes, sometimes policemen fail us by not using their authority for God-honoring purposes. And yet, Scripture says we ought to submit to them. It’s what Jesus did. And it’s what Paul did here. He went to the barracks of his own accord. He didn’t fight the chains. He didn’t hide his citizenship until he could punch back harder and ruin a few lives on his own. Grace–that unmerited favor—is always visible when genuine authority submits to the Higher Authority—God Himself. Grace always causes the most loving outcome.

Grace is a hard concept. How it plays out in our lives through authority and submission is a complicated thing. Conscientious objection isn’t always clear cut. What’s a Christian to do?

I think of Kim Davis, that court clerk in KY, and wonder about authority and submission and God being our highest authority. A cloud formed when she began to respond to the press and the limelight instead of sticking her moral high ground of responding to God alone. It’s a thin razor’s edge between Conscientious Objection and Insubordination. And it’s complicated. In the pool of all the shades of gray is the single drop of black and white. God is always our Higher Authority. And He’s not the least bit confused! There are no 50 shades of gray with Him. God always knows the Truth. He is the Truth.

I think of Peter and John having been commanded by the authorities to stop teaching way back in Acts 4: 19 But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

So how do you deal with things when faced with submission to someone in authority who is doing you wrong? Jesus shows us how it was done. Peter tells us about it as he explains why Christians suffer.

1 Peter 2: 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

He entrusted Himself to the Highest Authority possible: our Father in heaven. Jesus was God all the time, even when He walked this earth and He never stopped being God nor did He ever start. And yet, He submitted to the government, entrusted Himself, not to man, but to the Highest Authority. To Pilate, John 19:11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” Leaders sin. But followers of Christ look to the Highest Authority.

Paul dealt with it, too. But here’s an interesting thought: Paul was a Roman citizen all the time. Just like Jesus was God all the time. Paul revealed his citizenship not to benefit himself alone. It was not his ace-in-the-hole or a get-out-of-jail-free card to be sprung on authorities to show them who’s boss. No, Paul’s citizenship was from many places: Hebrew, Tarsus, Roman, and most of all his citizenship was heaven.

So, big questions: How and when do we use our citizenship? It’s something each of us must wrestle with as we engage in relationship with our culture, with one another, with our government, and with our God. So the 10 Commandments being removed, Christian bakers told to make cakes, Little Sisters of the Poor being forced to offer insurance that violates their conscience, Catholic hospitals sued to make them do abortions. Nativity scenes being removed from the public square. Do we just let that slide??? Or do we take a stand for God and against what violates our heavenly citizenship? It’s a tough one to be sure.

So, here’s a strategy: Grab a pencil and some paper to write it down.   2 acronyms==THINK before ACTING

THINK about the information…whether it’s True Helpful Important Necessary Kind.

If the information is not true, or not helpful, or unimportant, or unnecessary, or is unkind, your actions should be nothing. A lot of people–even Christian people–on social media could use a little lesson on that.  God is only obligating us to stand for what is True, Helpful, Important, Necessary, and Kind. If that reflects the information you feel compelled to speak, then proceed to the next step.

Before ACTING, consider your citizenships of earth and heaven: Authority, Conscience, Trust, Integrity, Neighbor, Grace

What authority do you have and what authority are you responding to? Is God your Highest Authority? What does your conscience tell you? The world has a conscience to tell them right from wrong. Christians have a conscience activated in a greater sense by the Holy Spirit. Listen to your conscience. Ask yourself in whom are you placing your trust? Are you trusting God with the outcome or just people? What will give you the greatest integrity as you stand before the LORD someday? What’s the most neighborly thing you can do? After all, when asked Matthew 22:36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

What is neighborly? And then Grace always produces the most loving outcome. Will your actions produce and reflect grace?

After you THINK before ACTING, one last thing is to consider what history will look like if you don’t act. ISIS is demolishing Christian history all over Iraq, Syria, and Turkey (basically biblical Mesopotamia) and Christians are being wiped from the face of the Middle East. But here’s another real question of history:

Are we doing in America through complacency and legislation, what ISIS has been doing with grenades, and bombs, and beheadings?

Our Christian history is being rewritten and some things we cannot let slide. Use that citizenship like Paul did. Press into that dual citizenship of earth and heaven. Just like Paul did. Just like Jesus did.

  1. Know what the Scriptures say is true. Your actions will be to stand alone for the truth.
  2. Know the Highest Authority: God. Your actions will be to entrust yourself to Him.
  3. Know your relationship to the government and to God. Use your citizenship of earth and heaven for pursuing Grace and Truth….and trust the Highest Authority…just like Jesus and Paul did.

Citizenship comes with both rights and responsibilities. Rights to use and to help govern our personal actions. But there are also responsibilities to the next generation.  We must pass along the very best we can to the next generation or history will be forgotten and rewritten. We will be like men who have no memory of where we’ve been and no compass for where we’re going. Pure Christianity is every bit as worth preserving and fighting for as our freedom or both may go extinct.  THINK before ACTING and consider history…this is how we are good citizens of both earth and heaven. Let’s pray.


Categories Chapel Worship/News | Tags: | Posted on October 12, 2015

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