Read Acts 23:12-35
You have to hand it to God’s people. They don’t like what Paul is saying so 40 of them commit not to eat again until they have killed Paul.
What says “We are God’s people” more than planning an ambush?
These 40 men may have had the desire and commitment to kill Paul, but what they didn’t have was operational security. The word got out. Paul’s nephew hears of this—and this brief account is probably the only time that we realize that Paul had family in Jerusalem—and so the nephew takes the news of the ambush plot to Paul, who in turn sends him to the commander.
Paul then realizes some of the perks to his Roman citizenship. The commander is not going to let 40 Jews, the ruling religious council, or anyone else ambush a citizen on his watch. These Jews can spill as much lamb and goat blood as they want in the temple, but they are not going to get blood from a Roman citizen without a fight.
Here’s the thing about fighting the Romans. The term fair fight means that you will be significantly outnumbered and underequipped, at least in this first century.
How is that fair?
You have ample opportunity not to show up and be massacred.
The commander allocates more than enough infantry and cavalry to transporting Paul to Governor Felix in Caesarea without risking losing this man to the Jews, and in reality without much risk of even having anyone come up against special task force of almost battalion size.
Paul even gets to ride. There are perks to being a Roman citizen.
And the commander sends a letter with this force explaining that some from the Jewish leadership desire to accuse Paul of crimes against their law, but had failed to muster anything of substance. He informed Felix of the plot to kill Paul—noting that he was a Roman citizen. And the commander added that he could find no fault with Paul—nothing that would warrant prison or death.
Paul arrived safely, but was not taken to prison. He was housed under guard in Herod’s palace at least for the short term. Roman citizenship comes in handy, except that being acquitted would not get Paul any closer to Rome.
For the moment, let’s consider citizenship in the republic. The Romans had a republican form of government. Even though they are considered an empire for most of the history that we read, with their Caesars placed as gods atop all of the representatives of the empire, they were still a republic.
My intent is not to study Roman history, but to consider citizenship in our republic.
If we, like Paul, played our citizenship card, what might we see?
We are free to worship where we want.
We are free to believe what we want.
We are free to express our beliefs without much fear of physical harm. You might find some mean responses on Facebook, Twitter, or other electronic media; but the naysayers probably are not going to stone you.
We are privileged to vote or not to vote.
We live in a republic where we have so many rights and privileges and comforts and amenities, that sometimes we forget how blessed we are. Count your own blessings at some point this week, for now, let’s proceed with how this fits in with Paul’s adventure in the first century Roman legal system.
Paul used his Roman citizenship to advance the gospel. In the next few chapters we will see Paul using his citizenship to get to Rome and to witness to those in his path along the way.
What do we use our U.S. Citizenship for? Is it only for our own comfort and needs? Is it just to accommodate our desires? Is it just to enjoy seeing the world knowing if the wrong people grabbed you, you might get a visit from the Marines or the Seals?
Have we ever stopped to consider that our citizenship in this great republic may be one of the gifts that God expects us to use to promote the gospel.
So many people live where they cannot worship God openly. But we can.
Some worship God fearing if they are discovered, they and their families may be imprisoned or killed. But we have no such fear.
Consider the words of Jesus.
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
As we consider our talents, gifts, resources, and other blessing that God has given us, let us not omit our citizenship. For God has called us to use not only our time, talents, and money in response to his love; he has called us to use everything to serve him.
And that includes our blessing of liberty.
Let us take stock of our situation. Much has been given to us. Now much is required.