1 “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense before you now.”
2 And when they heard that he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, they kept all the more silent. Then he said:
3 “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today.
4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women,
5 as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.
6 “Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me.
7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’
8 So I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’
9 “And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me.
10 So I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.’
11 And since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus.
12 “Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there,
13 came to me; and he stood and said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that same hour I looked up at him.
14 Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth.
15 For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.
16 And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’
17 “Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance
18 and saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.’
19 So I said, ‘Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You.
20 And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’
21 Then He said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.’ “
22 And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!”
23 Then, as they cried out and tore off their clothes and threw dust into the air,
24 the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, and said that he should be examined under scourging, so that he might know why they shouted so against him.
25 And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?”
26 When the centurion heard that, he went and told the commander, saying, “Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman.”
27 Then the commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” He said, “Yes.”
28 The commander answered, “With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.” And Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.“
29 Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.
30 The next day, because he wanted to know for certain why he was accused by the Jews, he released him from his bonds, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down and set him before them.
There is great power in the perception of identity in how someone is to be treated. The people were made to see Paul, the man who had been chosen by God to bring revelation of identity with Christ, as this terrible person who only wanted to denigrate their beliefs and their way of life. Just that He began to speak in Hebrew adjusted their perception of him enough for them to be quiet and hear what he had to say, at least for a little while. In his story, those people he had been persecuting were so terrible in his perception that they deserved death, and he had held the coats of those who stoned Stephen, a man given only to service and passionate sharing of the powerful love of Jesus. This perception of Paul’s also quickly changed, though, with his personal encounter with Jesus. Instead of persecuting, he became a servant of salvation.
The people were good with Paul’s narration until he got to the part about taking this message (that they didn’t believe anyhow) to the gentiles). They could listen no longer as their perception of him placed him in the guilty column, only worthy of death. Those in authority saw Paul as just another prisoner that they could get answers from by torturing until – … their perception was changed by the simple fact of who he really was, a Roman.
How important it is how we are perceived, first by our Father God, but then, ourselves and those who we encounter in our walk of newness in life. Everything changes in treatment with direct correlation to this perception. From fulfilling a less than holy behavior, to reflecting and emulating the very heart of God, we can be transformed by the renewal of mind from perception according to the flesh to perception according to the Spirit. Who we choose to listen to has everything to do with what we will choose to do. Every moment in the presence of the Master, honoring His Word, is an opportunity for perception adjustment that effects our own ability, but also that of others to see us for who we really are in Christ.
The citizenship of Paul and the benefits that came along with being a citizen reminded me of our citizenship of the kingdom of God. What privilege we have to be an heir to the kingdom, yet we have to know who we are within that kingdom to live fully in the benefits that it provides.