22The crowd listened until Paul said this. Then they started shouting, “Get rid of this man! He doesn't deserve to live.” 23They kept shouting. They waved their clothes around and threw dust into the air.
24The Roman commander ordered Paul to be taken into the fortress and beaten with a whip. He did this to find out why the people were screaming at Paul.
25While the soldiers were tying Paul up to be beaten, he asked the officer standing there, “Is it legal to beat a Roman citizen before he has been tried in court?”
26When the officer heard this, he went to the commander and said, “What are you doing? This man is a Roman citizen!”
27The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”
“Yes,” Paul answered.
28The commander then said, “I paid a lot of money to become a Roman citizen.”
But Paul replied, “I was born a Roman citizen.”
29The men who were about to beat and question Paul quickly backed off. And the commander himself was frightened when he realized that he had put a Roman citizen in chains.
When Canadian youth travel abroad they often have a small Canadian flag stitched to their knapsack. Canada has been known as a peaceful and welcoming country. Canadians assume that wherever they go they will be warmly received.
However, Canadian citizenship is for everyone born in Canada and for those who are granted citizenship after immigration. It was different in the Roman Empire. Citizenship could be obtained in various ways – by birth to citizen parents, as a reward for military service, and as a reward for service to Rome. Citizenship carried with it a number of privileges, including the right to be tried in Rome, and the penalties for mistreating a Roman citizen were severe.
The Roman commander listens to the screaming crowd and decides that Paul must obviously have committed some enormous sin against the Jewish people. A good lashing, he thinks, will make this man confess his crimes so that he would be able to understand the crowds’ animosity.
It is that point that Paul reveals his Roman citizenship. It was illegal to flog a Roman citizen.
The commander muttered that he was also a citizen. He had bought this right (perhaps by bribery) and it had cost him a small fortune. You can imagine his shock when Paul stated that he was a citizen by birth. No officer wanted to be found guilty of harming a Roman particularly without even a trial.
Many who read this will be followers of Jesus. If we once thought that our Christian faith would bring us an easy life we may have since changed our minds.
Paul realized that citizenship would give him a political advantage, but it never eliminated the opposition he faced as a Christian. He wrote to the Christians in Philippi, a Roman colony many of whose inhabitants were Roman citizens, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:20). We serve another King (see Luke 9:22-24).
Lord help us to realize that following you will never be easy. However you will be with us to strengthen us every step of the way. Thank you, in Jesus’ name. Amen.