And as they cried out, and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air,…
The most interesting and the most distinctively Christian truth contained in this passage is that which we gain by contrasting the citizenship of ancient Rome with that of the kingdom of Christ. But we may also let these verses remind us of -
I. THE INHUMANITY OF HEATHENISM. "The chief captain... bade that he should be examined by scourging; that he might know," etc. (ver. 24). What an inhuman and brutal procedure to extract evidence or confession by scourging - by cruel, relentless laceration of the body! It is painful to think how, in this as in many another respect, departure from God meant distance from all justice and benignity. It is, indeed, all too true that pagan law passed on many of its usages to Christian legislature, and that down to even recent times harsh and stern things have dishonored the statute-books of Christian lands; but these have been
(1) diametrically opposed to the spirit of Jesus Christ,
(2) implicitly condemned by his words, and
(3) have been (or are being) disowned and disestablished by his followers.
II. THE EXCELLENCY OF HUMAN LAW AND DISCIPLINE. Utterly defective as Roman law was, it shone in brilliant contrast with Jewish frenzy. How pitiable, not to say contemptible, the crowd crying out, rending their clothes, flinging dust in the air, in their uncontrollable passion (ver. 23)! Excellent, indeed, as compared with this, the rate custody of the Roman soldiery (ver. 24), the immediate regard paid to his claim of citizenship (vers. 26-29), the determination of the chief captain to bring Paul before the council in a legitimate and orderly way (ver. 30). With all defects and severities, law and discipline are immeasurably superior to the violent excitements of an incensate and ungovernable mob.
III. THE RECTITUDE OF CLAIMING INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS. The man who is perpetually asserting his rights is a man as far, in spirit, from the likeness of Jesus Christ as he is far, in fact, from the enjoyment of the esteem of man. God blesses him as little as man loves him. But obviously there are times when it is not only our right but our duty to assert our claims. Paul did so here (ver. 25), and most justifiably; there was no reason why he should suffer and be weakened by suffering when he could escape by making a lawful claim. We do well to be self-assertive so long as we do not acquire the spirit of selfishness and do not give the impression of being self-centered. We do well, when we act thus with a distinct view to the benefit of others, to our own spiritual well-being, or to the extension of the kingdom of Christ.
IV. THE EARTHLY AND HEAVENLY CITIZENSHIP. (Vers. 27, 28.) Paul acceded to the citizenship in virtue of his birth; he was free born. The chief captain obtained it by purchase. Others gained it by valuable military or civil service, or by favor of some illustrious man. Entrance into the kingdom of God cannot be gained thus.
(1) Not by birth (John 1:13),
(2) nor by purchase (Acts 8:20),
(3) nor by the favor of man (John 1:13),
(4) nor by meritorious behavior (Ephesians 2:9),
do we become citizens of the spiritual kingdom and heirs of eternal life. It is rather by the influence of the Spirit of God upon and within us (John 3:5), and by our appropriate and corresponding action in response - by penitence of spirit and humble faith in a Divine Savior (Acts 20:21), that we become true subjects of the great King, and have our names entered on that blessed roll which is the Book of Life. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And as they cried out, and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air,