Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Friday, July 15, 2016

Paul - Roman, Greek, Jew, Christian.

We continue our journey through the Acts of the Apostles and find ourselves at Acts 22.23-30. We ended two weeks ago with the crowd in Jerusalem shouting for Paul's blood after he told them that God had sent him to minister to the Gentiles: ‘Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!’..... and the Romans taking him into custody.

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

Once again, Paul finds himself suffering for the gospel, flogged, not with the rod, as at Philippi (16:22–24), but with the scourge, a merciless instrument of torture. It was legal to use it to force a confession from a slave or foreigner but never from a Roman citizen. The scourge consisted of a whip of leather thongs with pieces of bone or metal attached to the ends and is of course what our Lord was whipped with (Mk 15:15).

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?’

Stretching him out refers to tying a person to a post for whipping:

but just before the whipping begins, Paul asks: ‘Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?’ According to Roman law, all Roman citizens were assured exclusion from all degrading forms of punishment: beating with rods, scourging, crucifixion. 

Notice that Paul hadn't used his citizenship before in order to escape being beaten ... as I referred to earlier when Paul was in Philipi. Scripture seems to teach that sometimes we embrace suffering without any resistance; whilst at other times, like this one, we do what we can to resist suffering. How do we know what the Lord wants us to do? We answered that in some detail over the church weekend and in much greater detail in the short course I led after the weekend. It's really important to know how to tell, isn't it? I don't want to go through suffering that God doesn't want me to go through, but likewise I don't want to resist suffering that God is going to make redemptive in my life. Praise God that He lets us know when to resist suffering, as Paul does here.

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 lot of money for my citizenship.’
‘But I was born a citizen,’ Paul replied.

There were three ways to obtain Roman citizenship: (1) receive it as a reward for some outstanding service to Rome; (2) buy it at a considerable price; (3) be born into a family of Roman citizens. How Paul’s father or an earlier ancestor had gained citizenship, no one knows. By 171 BC a large number of Jews were citizens of Tarsus, and in the time of Pompey (106–48) some of these could have received Roman citizenship as well.

29 Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realised that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.
30 The commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews. So the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the members of the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and set him before them.

Paul was now no longer bound, and presumably he would have been free completely if the chief priests and the Sanhedrin had not wished to detain him. The chief priests were those of the high priestly line of descent and they were mainly Sadducees; the Sanhedrin, on the other hand, were mainly Pharisees. Together, these men constituted the ruling body of the Jews and this Jewish court was respected by the Roman governor, whose approval had to be obtained before sentencing to capital punishment. I mention all this now because, as we will see next time in greater detail, Paul very cleverly uses the differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees to turn his trial before them into a farce. 

I said earlier that, as a Roman citizen, Paul had a passport to any destination. Passports and travelling are in the news quite a bit lately and it would seem many Brits are applying to the Irish embassy for citizenship ... the clipping below is from a leading national newspaper

Hold off applying for passport, Ireland tells Britons
Irish citizenship now seen as more desirable in light of Brexit vote, leading to a surge in applications
Friday 15 July 201603.20 BST
The Irish government has urged Britons to take some time to think before applying for an Irish passport as it warned that a surge in applications threatened to place major pressure on the system for processing them.
A spike in interest in Irish passports has occurred in Northern Ireland, Britain and elsewhere in the past few days, according to Ireland’s foreign minister, Charlie Flanagan, who said there was no urgency for UK citizens to apply.

Paul, who'd never been to Rome, claims the benefits of Roman citizenship. What citizenship do you lay claim to? Paul, Roman, Greek, Jew, Christian, claims even another citizenship in Philippians 3:20.

Up to now you've had the teaching, now for the preaching: What citizenship do you lay claim to? I want to invite you to citizenship in heaven; I want to remind you of what your citizenship of Heaven requires of you.

What does it mean that our citizenship is in heaven?

A citizen is a person who legally belongs to a country and has the rights and protection of that country. Citizens adopt the culture and practices of the nation or kingdom to which they belong. Every human being is born into the kingdom of this world, in which Satan rules (2 Corinthians 4:4). Consequently, we grow up adopting the culture, practices, and values that he instigates (Genesis 3:1; 1 John 2:16).

Satan’s kingdom enslaves its citizens (Romans 6:16). With darkened hearts and minds, we blindly follow our leader into the very sins that pull us deeper into slavery. We remain captives in this kingdom of sin, headed for destruction, until Jesus frees us (Ephesians 2:1–4). Philippians 3:18–19 highlights the differences between those who desire fellowship with Jesus Christ and those who focus on earthly pursuits: “For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” Those who do not know Christ live only for this world and the pleasure they can find for themselves. They are “citizens” of this world and live by its rules and value system.

When we are born again by a faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:3) which leads good works in our lives (Eph 2:8-10), we are born into the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 3:2; 7:21; Romans 14:17). Speaking of those who have had that spiritual rebirth, Philippians 3:20 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus spent much of His earthly ministry explaining the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 4:17). He compared it to many things, including a wheat field in which weeds grew along with the wheat. The plants appeared identical at first, but were separated at the harvest. The truth is, often the citizens of heaven and those of this world appear identical, and no one but God knows the difference (Romans 8:19). Many people may appear to be citizens of heaven, when, in fact, no rebirth has ever taken place in their hearts (Matthew 7:21).

When God grants us citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven, we become “new creatures” (2 Corinthians 5:17). He sends His Holy Spirit to indwell our spirits, and our bodies become His temple (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19–20). The Holy Spirit begins to transform our sinful, worldly desires into those that glorify God (Romans 12:1–2). His goal is to make us as much like Jesus as possible in this life (Romans 8:29). We are given the power and privilege of exiting the world’s flawed value system and living for eternity (1 John 2:15–17). To be adopted into the family of God means that we become citizens of an eternal kingdom where our Father is the King. Our focus turns toward eternal things and storing up treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19–20). We consider ourselves ambassadors to this earth until our Father sends for us and we go home (Ephesians 2:18–19; 6:20).

We live for a short time in these physical bodies, anticipating the bright future in our real home, working for the coming of God's kingdom on earth by doing His will on earth, even as it is done in Heaven. While here, we share Abraham’s experience, living “like a stranger in a foreign country. . . looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:9–10).

Paul --- Roman, Greek, Jew, Christian --- claimed the privileges of each of those when it suited the purposes of God; but his true citizenship, whether he was claiming Roman, Greek, Jewish or Christian privilege, was as an ambassador and citizen of Heaven ... here on earth.

You and I are called not just to claim, but to be, citizens and ambassadors of Heaven, here in Hellesdon and Norwich.

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