About Jesus - Steve (Stephen) Sweetman

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Paul's Legal Liberties


The apostle Paul was familiar with the legal systems of both Jewish and Roman culture.  Although he was a Jew, he possessed Roman citizenship (Acts 22:29) that provided him with certain legal liberties, liberties that he did not hesitate to use when needed. 


While carrying out an ill-advised plan by the church elders at Jerusalem that was meant to appease the Christian Jews, Paul was arrested without due cause by the Jewish temple authorities (Acts 21:33).  He was subsequently handed over to the Roman authorities in Caesarea where he spent two years in a Roman prison (Acts 24:27).  With no resolution to his case, Paul was advised to return to Jerusalem to be tried by the Jews (Acts 25:9).  He refused.  With much conviction, as I believe, he exercised his Roman legal rights by appealing to the highest court in the land.  "I appeal to Caesar," he declared (Acts 25:11).  Paul, thus, spent the next couple of years manoeuvring his way through the Roman legal system, not defending the gospel he preached, but defending himself from the injustice done to him by the Jews.  Paul stood up for his civil legal liberties, but in the process he never, not for a minute, forsook his mission to lead individuals to Jesus.            


We have no legitimate Biblical or historical record of Paul's court proceedings in Rome.  Many believe, as I tend to believe, that he was acquitted of all charges, released, and traveled to Spain to preach, as was his desire (Romans 15:24).  Upon his return to Rome he was arrested for the crime of not relinquishing his allegiance to Jesus.  In compliance with his teaching that Christians are to submit to government (Romans 13:1), and, balancing submission to government with his loyalty to his Lord, Paul willingly and without resistance submitted to the state's punishment for his act of civil disobedience.      


Around 64 to 66 A D Paul laid his head on a Roman chopping block where a soldier's sword sliced Paul's head from his shoulders.  Paul's final and most powerful witness for Jesus was demonstrated when his head plummeted to the ground in a bloody mess. 


I'm convinced that with love in his eyes, Paul shared Jesus with the soldier who beheaded him.  He would have done so because God's love was the compelling force in his life (2 Corinthians 5:14).  Paul's fight of faith was over.  It was a fight he waged, not with the Roman state, but with the demonic forces that influence all nations.  Even though he exercised his legal liberties in defence of himself, he knew that no legal or legislative system could help him in his fight with the unseen evil world behind Rome.  He had more effective means at his disposal than his civil and legal liberties (Ephesians 6:10 - 18).                


Following Paul's example, as he encouraged us to do (1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17) I conclude the following.  As Christians, we are entitled to exercise any legal liberty at our disposal in defence of any injustice done to us.  As Christians, we acknowledge our fight of faith is not with the state, but with the demonic armies influencing all states.  As Christians, we implement all spiritual means we possess in both the defence and proclamation of the gospel.  As Christians, even in the midst of injustice, we never forsake our mission to lead people, including those who oppose us, to Jesus.  As Christians, we never replace preaching Jesus with legal or legislative reform because that saves no one.  As Christians, we submit to ungodly government, balanced by our loyalty to our Lord.  As Christians, if need be, we willingly and without resistance, submit to any punishment placed on us by the state for any act of civil disobedience we commit.  As Christians, we lay down our lives for the sake of those we are called to lead to Jesus, and that, is our most powerful witness for our Lord.           


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