God’s Word for You
Acts 22:22-26 Invoking our rights
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, January 15, 2021
22 The mob listened to him until he said this, but then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He is not fit to live!” 23 While they shouted they tore off their cloaks and threw dust into the air, 24 and the commanding officer ordered him to be brought into the fortress. He ordered that Paul should be examined with whipping so that he might find out why they were shouting against him this way.
The mob (crowd is too kind a word for what was going on) suddenly exploded when Paul said that God told him to take salvation to the Gentiles. This was too much for them. All throughout Judea during the decade from 56-66 AD, there was an anti-foreign sentiment that boiled over into hatred and xenophobia, so it’s not at all surprising to hear about Jews screaming and whipping dust into the air at the mere mention of Gentiles associated with salvation. It isn’t certain what is meant by the mob tearing off their cloaks. Luke doesn’t mean that they tore their clothes the way the Pharisees and priests sometimes did when they were frightened that they may have heard blasphemy or when Godly people expressed their deepest sorrow (Matthew 26:65; Mark 14:63; see also Esther 4:1; Joshua 7:6 and Judges 11:35). This was either a kind of flag-waving (using one’s cloak to wave around in protest?) or else they were removing their outer cloaks in preparation for stoning Paul as had been done when Stephen was stoned (Acts 7:58). Whatever was beginning to happen, the Colonel wanted to stop it before he completely lost control of the situation. He ordered Paul off the steps and into the fortress, and then he announced that he would investigate by questioning Paul “with whipping.” This was the usual Roman treatment of a prisoner who was either a slave or simply not a citizen. There was very little emotion in the Roman whippings. The thongs of the lash might be studded with knots and pieces of metal or even bone to open up the flesh of the prisoner as quickly and efficiently as possible. Quite a few people died under this kind of questioning.
25 And as they stretched him out to whip him, Paul asked the centurion who was standing there, “Is it lawful for you to whip a man who is a Roman citizen who has not been found guilty?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the commanding officer and said to him, “What are you planning to do? This man is a Roman citizen.”
The scene here is very similar to the flogging of Jesus (Mark 15:15; John 19:1). In fact, Paul was almost certainly tied to the very same rostrum that had been used for Jesus. However, Paul the citizen did not remain silent. He asked the centurion (or sergeant) if it was legal to punish a citizen who had not even had a trial, let alone been found guilty of anything? This struck terror into the heart of this non-commissioned officer. He did the only thing he could have done in the situation. He went and reported to his Colonel.
Paul was not using a legal trick. He was showing what it means to peacefully invoke one’s rights as a citizen. This can be done in a way that pleases God and that gives him glory, or it can be done in a way that brings shame and disgrace to God and his people. When King David’s enemy Abner came over to David’s side and began to sway the tribe of Benjamin and even some from Saul’s own family to join David peacefully, David’s general Joab murdered Abner for an old grudge (2 Samuel 3:12-27). This didn’t help David or his kingdom, and didn’t please God, either. We don’t get to pick and choose which parts of God’s will we shall obey. If a mob assembles and decides that it must sin in order to get it’s way, it has broken the First Commandment as well as the Fourth and Fifth. It has made its opinion supreme, and turned murderously against the rule of law.
Twenty years ago, Vice President Al Gore conceded defeat in the 2000 election, yielding the legal contest over the election results so that there could be a peaceful transfer of power in the United States. He understood that his rights as a private citizen had to be let go of at some point for the good of the nation. Paul’s position was different. He wasn’t speaking for a nation, he was speaking for Christ. And Christ had promised him that he was going to suffer in Jerusalem for the good of the kingdom of God. What good would come from it? This is what the remainder of Acts is all about. Paul’s legal claim at this moment would eventually lead to Paul being taken to Rome to preach the gospel there. God’s plan works through man’s weakness, not through man’s strength. “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). So Paul could also write: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). By letting himself be questioned formally by officials, Paul was thrust into pulpits that were strange but effective, with far-reaching results. By living our lives in humility and with the hearts of servants (2 Kings 3:9), we can bring his message of forgiveness and salvation to every nook and cranny of the world. And especially to the people we love most dearly.
Pastor Timothy Smith