Seemingly insignificant things can end up making a world of difference when God is concerned.
Paul is born in Tarsus in Cilicia making him a Roman citizen. He is born a Jew, and it clear from today’s passage that it is this Jewish heritage that mattered most to Paul’s family. These were Pharisees, apparently a long line of them (23:6). Paul’s father will go to the expense and trouble to get him to Jerusalem to train under Gamaliel the Pharisee (22:3). This is a good education. By all of his own accounts scattered throughout Acts and his letters, it is this Jewish background that Paul gloried in.
And yet in today’s reading it is Paul’s Roman citizenship that makes all the difference between life and death. The Jews are ready to tear him “in pieces” (23:10). A gang of Jewish extremists have pledged not to eat or drink until they kill Paul (23:12). An assassination plot is hatched (23:15). But leave it to the Jews and Paul is as good as dead.
It is because of his Roman citizenship that the Roman tribune is involved at this point. The tribune’s greatest desire is simply to preserve peace, but he ends up protecting Paul nonetheless. The tribune’s palace guard whisks Paul out of the fomenting Sanhedrin. The Roman respect for law ensures Paul a fair trial. An army of two hundred foot soldiers and seventy horsemen escort Paul out of Jerusalem and off to a Caesarean prison, and safety as well. Ultimately, it is Paul’s Roman citizenship that will bring him to Rome so he can give his “testimony about [Jesus] in . . . Rome” (23:11). Bottomline:
When I [the tribune] learned that he was a Roman citizen I went with the guard and rescued him. (23:27)
Where one is born is not nearly as important as what one does once one is born. And yet Paul’s place of birth is what rescues him at this moment.