Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven

Sermon outline based on Acts 22:22-29.
Written by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett and preached at Faith Community Church, Barre, VT on July 18, 2010

  • Paul had been attacked by a mob and then arrested for something he did not do.
  • The soldier who arrested Paul gave him a chance to defend himself and Paul chose to use the opportunity to share the story of how he became a Christian.
Verse 22 - They listened to him up to this word. Then they raised their voices, shouting, "Wipe this person off the earth—it's a disgrace for him to live!"
  • The mob listened to most of Paul's testimony, but when he got to the really convicting stuff, they went crazy! They shouted over Paul. They shouted for Paul to be killed.
  • People have not changed much since the First Century.
  • Our messed up culture can still only take so much religion. Our culture does not seem to mind when Christians talk about God in general terms, but when we begin to focus on Jesus, society gets nervous. So much for tolerance!
  • Culture can only tolerate God as a distance concept, but Jesus is much more personal and our culture struggles with how to deal with the personal nature of Jesus.
  • Many people do not want to get personal with Jesus because it requires them to be accountable for sin. None of us like to admit that we are sinners. But we all know we are. Why deny it?
Verse 24 - the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, directing that he be examined with the scourge, so he could discover the reason they were shouting against him like this.
  • The commander of the soldiers ordered for Paul to be taken to the dungeon to be beaten until he confessed.
  • Paul was innocent and had done nothing to which he could confess. Yet he was about to be beaten.
  • The world can sometimes be a cruel place in which innocent people are hurt and evil people remain free.
  • Many of us have experienced injustice at least once in our lives. We must keep our eyes on Jesus to keep from getting a bitter spirit.
Verse 25 - As they stretched him out for the lash, Paul said to the centurion standing by, "Is it legal for you to scourge a man who is a Roman citizen and is uncondemned?"
  • They were going to torture Paul with the lash.
  • The lash was a terrible torture device more commonly called a flagellum.
  • It was made of leather thongs with pieces of metal and bone tied to the ends.
  • Many men died when whipped with the lash, others were crippled for life.
  • Though Paul was trusting in Christ to deliver him, he did not mind appealing to the law.
  • Our focus should also be on Christ during times of difficulty. But sometimes we have to use the legal system.
  • Just because we are Christians does not mean we cannot use the law. But as Christians, we must use the law in an honest way.
  • Paul already knew it was illegal for Roman citizens to be tortured into a confession with the lash. But he asked them the question because he was trying to help the soldiers see the wrongness of what they were about to do.
  • Sometimes we have to ask probing questions of those who do injustice to help them see the wrongness of their actions.
  • Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship as a way to escape being beaten.
Types of First Century Citizenship
  • Romans citizens were at the top of the legal ladder and had many more rights than everyone else. This sounds so wrong to us today, but was just the way it was back then.
  • There was also a second class of citizenship called the "Latin rite" which was as high as most people could ever hope to go.
  • There was another class for women, who were allowed to own property but not vote.
  • There was also the slave class. Slaves could be sold, tortured, maimed, raped and killed at the whim of their owners.
  • There were no equal rights in the Roman Empire until Christianity became the dominant religion. 
Verse 26 - When the centurion heard this, he went and reported to the commander, saying, "What are you going to do? For this man is a Roman citizen."
  • Paul's Roman citizenship gave him special rights and privileges that most people did not have. Even the guard about to beat Paul did not have as many rights as Paul did.
  • The guard realized he had already broken the law and could be in serious trouble.
Verse 27 - The commander came and said to Paul, "Tell me—are you a Roman citizen?" "Yes," Paul said.
  • The commander was nervous and asked Paul if it was true that Paul was a Roman citizen with special rights. Paul verified that it was true. 

Rights of a Roman Citizen to which Paul was entitled:
  • 1. The right to vote in the Roman assemblies.
  • 2. The right to run for civil or public office.
  • 3. The right to make legal contracts and to hold property as a Roman citizen.
  • 4. The legal recognition to deal with situations between Roman citizens and foreign persons.
  • 5. The right to have a lawful marriage with a Roman citizen, to have the legal rights of the paterfamilias over the family, and to have the children of any such marriage be counted as Roman citizens.
  • 6. The right to preserve one's level of citizenship upon relocation to a city of comparable status. This right did not preserve one's level of citizenship should one relocate to a colony of lesser legal status; full Roman citizens relocating to a Latina colony were reduced to the level of the jus Latii, and such a migration and reduction in status had to be a voluntary act.
  • 7. The right of immunity from some taxes and other legal obligations, especially local rules and regulation.
  • 8. The right to sue in the courts and the right to be sued.
  • 9. The right to have a legal trial and to appear before a proper court and to defend oneself.
  • 10. The right to appeal the decisions of magistrates and to appeal lower court decisions.
  • 11. A Roman citizen could not be tortured or whipped, nor could he receive the death penalty, unless he was found guilty of treason.
  • 12. If accused of treason, a Roman citizen had the right to be tried in Rome, and even if sentenced to death, no Roman citizen could be sentenced to die at the cross.
  • Adapted from

Verse 28 - The commander replied, "I bought this citizenship for a large amount of money." "But I myself was born a citizen," Paul said.

  • The commander was also a Roman citizen, but he had purchased his citizenship.
    It was rare for someone to buy his citizenship because it cost a great deal of money, but it could be done.
  • Paul was born a citizen, which was a great honor.
  • Those who bought their citizenship were never really accepted by Roman cultural elitists because everyone knew they were pretenders and wanna-bes.
  • There were a number of other ways to gain citizenship that were better than buying it.

Methods to Obtain Roman Citizenship
  • Roman citizenship was granted automatically to every male child born in a legal marriage of a Roman citizen.
  • Roman auxiliary soldiers from other nations were rewarded with Roman citizenship after their term of service. (Note: only Roman citizens could enlist in the actual Roman Legion, but a second level of soldiers served in the auxiliary service.)
  • Some individuals received Roman citizenship as a reward for outstanding service to Rome.
  • Though it was extremely rare for a slave to be freed by a Roman citizen, if a slave was freed, he was given a limited form of Roman citizenship. However, they were still obliged in some aspects to their former owner who automatically became their patron.
  • The sons of freed slaves became full citizens, which is why a slave who somehow became free would be happy with his limited citizenship since his children would have full citizenship.
  • One could also buy citizenship, but at a very high price.
  • Adapted from
Spiritual Applications:
  • Being a Roman citizen was important in the First Century but being a citizen of the Kingdom of God is important in every century.
  • There were several ways to become a Roman citizen, some more respectable than others. But there is only one way to become a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven and that is to trust Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of our lives.
  • People could buy their way into citizenship in Rome. But becoming a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven can only be achieved through accepting the gift of God's grace.
  • There were several classes of Roman citizenship, each with its own set of rights and privileges. But citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven are all equal at the foot of the cross.
  • The contrast between Roman citizenship and citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven is huge. Roman citizenship definitely had some advantages, but citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven has benefits that far exceed anything Rome could offer.
  • Many people have not yet accepted Jesus Christ's offer of citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven and should consider accepting Christ as soon as possible.
  • Many people who have accepted Christ's offer have not yet claimed the benefits of their citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven and are still acting as if they live in "Rome." It is time for Christians to stop acting like we still live in Rome, with all its classes of people and special rights for each group and start enjoying the benefits of being a citizen of heaven.

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