With the Queen’s Jubilee just passed and Independence Day tomorrow, the idea of citizenship seemed a good fit for today.
In an interesting address, the Apostle Paul spoke of his citizenship of a not insignificant city. This is a multi-layered statement coming from Paul. Which city was he speaking of?
Citizen of no mean city: Acts 21: 39 Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city. Please let me speak to the people.” 40 After receiving the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic.
Paul was born in this city in Roman Cilicia. As such he can make claim to it. But while this was an important city of its time, could he have meant more by the statement?
22: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.
He builds on this in Philippians 3:
5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
Here Paul notes his Hebrew lineage and citizenship. He was educated and came to some prominence in the city of God’s Temple.
22: 24 the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. 25 As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.” 27 The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” “Yes, I am,” he answered. 28 Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.” “But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied. 29 Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.
Today there are discussions of relative value of passports. Where can it get you? What protections can it provide. Are you American, British, Irish? Well, in the first century it was citizenship of Rome that was the one to have. It is clear that Paul had citizenship by birth.
But what did that mean?
Not everyone living in the First Century Roman Empire was a citizen. There were slaves, freemen, people from client states, and citizens.
Slaves were everywhere. Different types included civic specialist (often Greeks), gladiators, prisoners of war, house slaves, artisans, and the list goes on. It should be noted that if the slave of a Roman citizen was freed, they themselves would become citizens.
Most citizens were Roman and Latin lower and middle classes. Some of these Plebians were ex-auxiliary soldiers who were issued diplomas, others were wealthier or skilled freed slaves. Others, those granted citizenship on their cities or tribes being absorbed into the Empire.
Above these were the Patricians including the Knights and Senators, Pilate was of the knight class.
There were rights and benefits associated with citizenship. At Philippi in Acts 16: 37 we can see how Paul’s Roman citizenship impacted his treatment. “But Paul said to the officers: ‘They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.” 38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city.’
And many of you may know Paul later used the right to have his case heard directly by Caesar.
But I would like to suggest while all these citizenships were held by Paul, the greatest was as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Kingdom of God:
In Acts 28, we are told that Paul stayed in Rome two full years in his own rented house, welcoming all who came to visit him. 31 Boldly and freely he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.
Yes, above all Paul was a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. The Passport beyond all others and eternal.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Jesus speaks of the kingdom being made up of souls that childlike turn to him. It isn’t about being a Hebrew of Hebrews, but about an open willingness to follow, and to repent. We are all welcomed into this kingdom not made by hands.
For those that embrace the invitation we can get our Heaven passport. For there is neither jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, for we are all one in Christ.
Jesus the Son of God:
For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son — the firstborn of faith, but He is ready for adoption as well! John 1:12. 12 – “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
Galatians 3:26 tells us “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
For those that turn to God we are not only citizens of the Kingdom but members of the royal family for God allows us to call Him father.
Look at the Lord’s Prayer – Jesus taught us to say: “Our Father” and as His kingdom comes (for which we are citizens) that His will be done. For His Kingdom will be forever.
So, what is our citizenship?
1 John 3:1 “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”
No matter what your earthly passport says, this world is not our home. We are only passing through. Our citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, and ultimately with the Father Himself. Jesus said that in His father’s house there are many rooms, and he has gone to prepare one for you.
Based on today’s sermon.