and as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. but when they had stretched him out for the whips, paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a roman citizen and uncondemned?” when the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “what are you about to do? for this man is a roman citizen.” so the tribune came and said to him, “tell me, are you a roman citizen?” and he said, “yes.” the tribune answered, “i bought this citizenship for a large sum.” paul said, “but i am a citizen by birth.” so those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that paul was a roman citizen and that he had bound him.[acts 22:23-29]


sometimes in the moment, we cannot see purpose in the chaos and churn of our lives but God is sovereign over all of it–in the chaos and anger of a mob, paul used his status as a roman citizen to avoid what could have been his death by flogging.  all of this–the anger of the crowd, the arrest by the romans, paul’s unlikely status as a jewish roman citizen–were under the mighty and sovereign hand of God.


as followers of Jesus in the chaos and churn of today, how does this inform how we live?


when Jesus sends his followers to spread the gospel he tells them:


“behold, i am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the gentiles. when they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. [matthew 10:16-20]


the exact scenario that is happening to paul is being prophesied by Jesus–


and here are some of the truths he spells out:

the world is full of wolves: like paul, followers of Jesus will be targeted and persecuted. there will be animal-like anger directed towards us.

we are to be wise as serpents: like paul, we must know who our audience is, and how we must approach them.

but we are to be as innocent as doves: as christians, we are set apart from the world, refusing to partake in the wickedness of evil men.

we are to depend on the Spirit for what we will say: there isn’t a “right” and a “wrong” here–paul was not sinning and acting cowardly by using his roman citizenship to avoid pain and death–there will be some moments in which we will honor the Lord by being lead by the Spirit to give a defense, and some moments in which we will honor the Lord by remaining silent and enduring persecution–in all of this, it is the Spirit that will direct us.

God doesn’t promise that he will deliver us from the hands of evil men: ultimately, paul (and Jesus, and countless other martyrs) lost their lives to the ones who persecuted them. brothers and sisters, we are not promised safety, we are promised suffering and persecution. 

we are promised this as well though:

all that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me i will never cast out. for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. and this is the will of him who sent me, that i should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. for this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and i will raise him up on the last day.” [john 6:37-40]


it is God who saves us, and it is God who keeps us–let us go to Jesus, who will never cast us out–he is our only hope, and we must hold firmly to this hope of glory as we face the confusion of this world. he is sovereign over all creation!


~ ce