Dust lept away and soared into the dry air as the apostle’s feet settled in the eye of the storm. The peace inside the bubble silenced the raging whirlwind of the crowds, where they flung dust into the air in protest. Piercing eyes among the Sanhedrin from those who sought to kill him ignored Paul’s claims. The throngs of people chased him out of the Jerusalem Temple that this cold silence was more lethal than the noisy and confused mobs.
He gained a hearing with the people because he was a Jew. The tribune protecting him from the crowds let him speak to them to calm them down. But the opposite happened. He sentenced him to flogging for starting a riot. What a surprise when Paul declared his natural born Roman citizenship! The tribune bought his citizenship. You could hear a pin drop in those barracks! Paul was a citizen of two worlds, the Roman and Jewish nations.
Now these Jewish aristocrats condemned him. Their hearts were stone cold, a shield against the Gospel. The Jew from Tarshish created his own little storm, leaving the Council in disputes about the resurrection after his speech. Theology was a great divider between Sadducees and Pharisees. Citizenship made when the sing about Christ possible for Paul.
And now these Jewish aristocrats sought to further condemn him. But Paul had an ace up his sleeve. The message did not hit its intended target. The hearts of the rulers were stone cold, a great shield against Christ’s gospel. So the Jew from Cilicia decided to create his own little storm and left the council in disputes about the resurrection. Theology was always a great divider between Sadducees and Pharisees. Their limited view condemned them to ignore the gospel yet again, but citizenship made it possible for Paul to witness about His Lord.
This confrontation in Acts 22-23 focused on Paul’s dual citizenship. He used every means available to spread the Gospel. This incident of flogging a Roman citizen would take him to Rome by prison transport, guaranteeing an audience with the most powerful leader in the world, Caesar. He was a Jew born in a Roman province, using his citizenship for Christ’s advantage.
This same apostle highlights the greater citizenship of heaven (Ephesians 2:11-22). This Independence Day, I want to examine the importance of being a dual citizenship in America and God’s Kingdom. Israel’s strong sense of nationalism is everywhere in this passage. He shows the division between the “commonwealth of Israel” and the “aliens and strangers,” the Gentiles. But Jesus changed everything about these dynamics.
The binding agent is Jesus’ death on the cross. He reconciled all people. This passage focuses on his sacrificial death to reconcile everyone. The New Testament speaks of the atonement with imagery from judicial, relational, and social systems. Jesus’ work on the cross goes beyond nationalities. This relational image of atonement shows reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles.
His atonement affects every Christian today because it creates a dual citizenship for each of us. We are both American citizens and citizens of heaven. Heaven is our home. I live and work in America, but it’s for God’s kingdom. If American laws challenge God’s laws, I must follow his laws first.
I love being an American citizen. America has beautiful people and cultures. We all enjoy America’s foundations in freedom. But in unchristian underbelly also permeates our country. America is a greatly blessed nation. But America is not heaven. It’s not perfect. Every nation on earth has its flaws.
As dual citizens of both Heaven and America, we must influence America for God’s Kingdom. We are not evangelists for democracy. I love democracy, but freedom in Christ is the greatest freedom Christians know. But in God’s kingdom, we are rolled by the theocracy of trusting in Jesus.
Psalm 20:7 reminds us to not trust in military might but in the Lord. American money has “In God We Trust” written on it. Do Christian Americans trust in politics, economics, or social “superiority”? When our soldiers defend us with excellence and kill America’s enemies, do we consider the human lives lost that may not know Jesus before they die? Christians look at were differently than the world.
We don’t fight flesh and blood but spiritual powers (Ephesians 6:12). Do we encourage physical war knowing this principle? We fully trust in the Lord only, not our own resources personally or nationally (Zechariah 4:6). God accomplishes his will and purposes by the Holy Spirit.
Those are hard words for us to hear. America has many resources and a firm foundation in freedom. Returning to Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul mentions a “dividing wall of hostility.” This is the Temple wall that separated the Court of the Gentiles from the Court of Israel. Everyone was welcome in the Court of the Gentiles, but only Israelites could get closer to God’s presence. A sign on the wall promised that any Gentile crossing it would be killed. Jesus’ death combined them into one nation, God’s people.
Jesus said God would be worshiped by everyone (John 4:21-24). Every nation and tongue glorifies God in its own way. God’s kingdom is uniquely diverse yet united in Christ. His kingdom is bigger than any nation. We all have access to one Father by one Spirit. We’re all neighbors instead of aliens and strangers.
But we’re more than a new nation; we are his temple of living stones (1 Peter 2:4-5). Ephesians 2:21-22 speaks of God’s house as saints, fellow citizens of heaven. Jesus is the Cornerstone of the house, the Stone on which the whole building rests. We belong to America, but also God’s kingdom. We are a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9).
This isn’t an anti-American message. We support and pray for politicians, troops, and freedoms, like the freedom of religion to worship Jesus publicly. I am thankful for the freedoms we have in America. But as a dual citizen of heaven and America, I evaluate my culture and nation, prioritizing God’s laws above American laws if they contradict one another. We must obey godly laws and enjoy the godly parts of our culture. But we must not get so caught up in our culture that we don’t realize when they differ from God’s laws. America is great, but its greatness is a gift from God. I am a Christian first, and then an American. I embrace King Jesus and his reign so he may embrace me with the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
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1 John 4:4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (ESV)