No, I’m not talking here about Donald. Rather, the title is a reference to how many card games have one suit (the category determined by a symbol or color) that in the course of the playing of a hand will carry greater power than the others; and this is called “trump.” And then within that suit, there is the card with the greatest value that is called the “high trump.”
In the Roman era, those folks who were citizens of Rome had a special sort of “trump” over other people. Though they could be detained, it was strictly illegal for them to be scourged without trial and just cause for any harsh treatment.
So as Paul is being stretched out for a beating, he plays the trump card. The power of it is immediately evident in the way the entire mood in the barracks changes. The centurion, upon hearing this interesting information, immediately takes it to the senior officer. The commander himself goes to Paul to query about the truth of this assertion. They had all probably assumed that this ordinary fellow whom they had previously even thought was some Egyptian revolutionary was certainly no Roman citizen. These soldiers were in serious trouble if they violated this right. The commander reveals to Paul that he himself was a Roman – a citizenship that was only obtainable to him through a great price, presumably a bribe! But Paul was born with it from his parents – the circumstances of which are entirely unknown.
So what kind of trump do you have? American citizenship is certainly worth something in most places. People risk everything to come to this country in hopes of attaining it. But any trump of this world is merely a power of this world – therefore temporary. But through faith in Christ and adoption into God’s family, we not only possess the trump of the suit which is the most powerful in the game, we possess the highest of all trump – the righteousness of Jesus Christ. It is this that gives us eternal life, the winning hand at the end of it all, even when earthly trump fades.
The knowledge of this “trump” made Paul the bold soul that he was. It was this perspective that made him able to say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
It is helpful to begin today’s passage with a quick restatement of the several verses leading into it. Paul was giving his testimonial speech to the throngs of Jews who had nearly beaten him to death. They were listening reasonably well … until … the last statement …
…. 19 “‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20 And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’
21 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”
Paul the Roman Citizen – Acts 22:22-29
22 The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”
23 As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 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.