The Jewish crowd was listening to Paul and seemed to be willing to consider what he had to say. That is, until he related that God sent him to the Gentiles. When those words came out of his lips, they were ready to kill him on the spot. Notice that Luke says that they were throwing their cloaks on the ground, probably in preparation for stoning him. If you’ll remember, when we’re introduced to Paul in the book of Acts, he’s on the receiving end of those cloaks as they were getting ready to stone Stephen. Quite a change.
The Roman soldiers had to intervene to keep him from being murdered in the street. The commander rescued him, and took him to the barracks. And with irony on top of irony, it looked for a moment like Paul had been pulled out of the frying pan and thrown into the fire. The commander callously ordered him to be flogged with a Roman whip with bits of stone, glass, and bone at the ends. All this just to find out from Paul what had happened!
But then something occurred. As they were stretching Paul out for the flogging, he asked a simple question to which he already knew the answer. It was perfectly legal (and quite common) to interrogate an alien or a slave this way, but Roman citizens were exempt from this type of tortuous treatment. If word got out that the commander ordered the beating of a Roman citizen, the commander could lose his military commission or even his life.
So Paul used his Roman citizenship to get out of an unjust beating and torture session. Let’s take a look at that for a moment.
As I’ve mentioned before, human beings have real trouble finding the proper balance between extremes. There are Christians in the world who actually seem to thrive on persecution, and actually seek out conflict with the world. If anyone in the secular world shows them any type of kindness, their default position is suspicion if not outright hostility. And there’s virtue in that position. Quite frankly, I think the Church in America is waaaaaaaay too comfortable sometimes with the Powers That Be. Maybe we could stand to be little more suspicious and a little less entangled.
But today’s passage reminds us that it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way all the time. God has used pagans several times to protect his people: Pharaoh (in Joseph’s time), Cyrus, Xerxes, and others. We never want to be compromise what’s important. But martyrdom is something that God gives someone. It’s not something we should seek out, and there’s nothing wrong with using legal means to avoid it if we can do so without being unfaithful to our Lord.
You see, we’re in our Father’s hands. If he decides in his wisdom and perfect plan to let Satan strike us, then so be it. We’re certainly in the best of company. Our Master does all things well.
But if he decides--again in his wisdom and perfect plan--to give us some relief, then again so be it. He really knows what’s best. And we don’t have to feel guilty about using an “out” that he’s provided.
It all comes down to trusting in his plan. He knows what his children need. And he always provides it. Always.
Lord Jesus, please give me what I need. Please let me as shrewd as a snake and as innocent as a dove. It’s a dangerous world out there, and I desperately need you to guide me every step of the way.
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