It has been over a decade since the horrific tragedy of 9/11 left its mark in history and has effectively generated a roller-coaster ride of fear with ups and downs and twists ever since. Now with the atrocities going on in the middle east, Americans reportedly feel less safe than any time since 9/11. Terrorism has become part of the nightly news.
As followers of Jesus how are we supposed to respond? There are obviously a lot of mixed emotions and feelings that arise when talking about the subject. Is it possible to mourn the tragic nature of that day while taking an eternal view of today’s events? What if we were able maintain our remembrance of that day but celebrate that God can change the hearts of all persons for His glory?
We are first introduced to the man named Saul in Acts 7 where he is present at the stoning of Stephen. Stephen had just finished his speech before the Sanhedrin, and he doesn’t exactly take it easy on them! The men of the court become so outraged that they begin to take up stones. And to ensure they get a full range of motion for throwing, they remove their jackets and lay them at the feet of Saul! And scripture points out that he was “giving approval to [Stephen’s] death.”
If that wasn’t enough it continues on to say that “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.” Acts 8:3
It picks up again in Acts 9:
“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”
Saul did not just stop with the church in Jerusalem. His hatred for these followers of “the Way” was so strong that he went and asked permission to expand the persecution. He wasn’t under orders. He didn’t try to resist doing it. He himself went to the leaders and vehemently requested the right to hunt them down.
That requires a special kind of hatred. He couldn’t stand their existence. He wanted them gone and with zeal he volunteered to be the one to do it. That is the true definition of terrorism. A systematic use of violence and intimidation to achieve a goal.
With permission granted, Saul rides off to extinguish this threat. But along the way he encounters the one thing that can overcome the power of fear. The one King that can take what is meant for evil and use it for the good. The one man that can speak life into a heart of stone.
With a flash of light Saul is knocked from his horse and Jesus goes to work on his heart.
A terrorist encountered Jesus that day.
And walked away with a new identity.
The Apostle Paul was born.
Paul became the missionary to the Gentiles. He goes on to write the majority of the New Testament. Save from Jesus himself, Paul was arguably the most influential man to walk the earth.
But we have to remember, that before Paul there was Saul. A terrorist focused on destroying the Church that Jesus Himself could have rightfully condemned. But Jesus had compassion on Saul, and invited him into a better way. And in the midst of all the terror around us, Jesus is still calling out to all nations saying “Follow me.”
Jesus’ Church is no stranger to persecution and threats. But let us not be overwhelmed with fear. “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7
Today as we remember what fear and hatred can do, let us also remember that the Gospel of Jesus has overcome it all. As we pray for loved ones and for brothers and sisters going through persecution, let us also remember that Jesus taught us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43)
God’s heart is for all nations. He does not want us to pick and choose who is “worthy” of hearing the Good News of Christ. And in fact, we need to remember that He may very well have chosen someone we consider a “terrorist” to become an apostle. An apostle that becomes the catalyst for the Gospel transforming a people group from unreached to worshipers of the true God!
We never know when the next “Saul” will encounter Jesus. Let us pray towards that end!