Acts 22:23-29 (ESV)
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.
Because they crucified Jesus, we tend to think that the Romans had a capricious criminal justice system. It was anything but. Yes, it could be horribly brutal, and yes, sometimes the guy at the top was a fruitcake. But the lower level administrators took their jobs very seriously – because that same brutality could land on them if they messed up. That’s why the soldiers paid attention when Paul pointed out their error.
Specifically, Roman citizens had rights. Paul knew this and knew how to play it to his advantage. Of course, Paul was never one to exercise his right to remain silent, but he was happy to avoid being flogged.
Notice the expression, “examined by flogging.” Torture works. It “breaks” people and they spill their guts. The testimony of someone who is being examined by flogging is surprisingly reliable. Thus, this was a valuable part of the Roman criminal justice system – though there were restrictions.
So, as they’re preparing to give Paul a dose of “roman truth serum,” he asks, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” This shocks the centurion in charge, and he immediately kicks this up the chain of command by going to the tribune. When the tribune finds out that Paul is not only a citizen but a natural born one (which implies aristocracy), he’s actually afraid.
My, how things can just turn on a dime.
“What men want is not knowledge, but certainty.” – Bertrand Russell
God is the God of surprises. It’s curious that becoming a Christian makes life more unpredictable. You’d think that being plugged in to the one who controls the future would give us a leg up on this, but it doesn’t. We want things to be under control – our control.
No deal. He runs everything, and we have to let God be God. Sometimes that’s easy; sometimes not.
Ask the Lord for help being at peace with this. You can view the unpredictability of life in Christ as something to fear, or to enjoy. It’s either intimidating or entertaining, depending on your attitude.
Unpredictability can be exciting; you see God’s hand in things.
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