Acts 22: 22 Up to this point they listened to (the apostle Paul), but then they shouted, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23 And while they were shouting, throwing off their cloaks, and tossing dust into the air, 24 the tribune directed that he was to be brought into the barracks, and ordered him to be examined by flogging, to find out the reason for this outcry against him. 25 But when they had tied him up with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who is uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard that, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? This man is a Roman citizen.” 27 The tribune came and asked Paul, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.”
As has been the case many times already in the book of Acts, the apostle Paul is in trouble. He is attacked in Jerusalem by the local Jewish leaders who are offended by his teaching and attempt to have him punished. However, Jerusalem isn’t ruled by Jews – but by Romans. So those who oppose Paul must appeal to Roman authorities to have Paul condemned. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.
In this case, it does not. Just when Paul is about to be flogged, he makes it known that he is a Roman citizen (he was not born in Jerusalem, but in Tarsus in modern day Turkey). The Roman authorities must respect his citizenship, which gives him protections not afforded others. They risk their own punishment should they fail to do so.
I’m an American citizen, which I have found carries with it some protections that others may not have when traveling abroad. As a citizen of a country with great political, economic, and military power, it is understood that people will be accountable for how they treat me, or any other U.S. citizen abroad. They are not free to do as they please, at least not without consequences.
As I read this passage this morning, it strikes me that, unlike being a Roman citizen or even an American citizen, being a citizen of the Kingdom of God and the church does not generally afford us greater protections. Case in point – In recent days there have been reports of Egyptian Christians being executed by the terrorist group ISIS, which follows reports within the last year of Christians elsewhere being put to death by this same terror group.
Being a Christian can make us a target.
I’m writing this blog post from suburban Dallas, Texas. It’s highly unlikely that I’ll face mortal danger today because I am a follower of Jesus. However, today’s passage reminds me of the millions of Christians around the world who will.
Gracious God, your son Jesus warned his followers they would be persecuted in his name. This was true then, and is true now for many people around the world. We ask your protection and peace upon all those who suffer for Jesus’ sake this very day. We ask it in Jesus’ holy name. Amen.