It appears each week there is a news story of Christians being persecuted, killed, and abused by followers of Islam. These past few weeks alone we saw a hundred and forty-seven Christian students massacred in Kenya, Christian refugees drowned by Muslims trying to get to safety in Italy, and ISIS destroying Christian graves and tombs in Iraq. For those trapped in this demonic religion perpetrating such horrific crimes against Christians and humanity in general it may seem hopeless that any reform and restoration could be possible; that only their deaths will bring a stop to it. For many this may be true. However, as Christians we should know that these deceived Muslims, no matter how debased in their actions and thoughts, are not beyond redemption by God. In the anger towards them because of their actions and because of the depth of this sin, we can lose sight of this and forget to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). By losing sight of this we lose sight of our own wretchedness Christ saved us from and project a self-righteousness like that of the Pharisee towards the publican (Luke 18:9-14). So let us turn our focus towards another radical terrorist who persecuted, killed, and hunted down Christians across the Middle East: that is, let us look at the life of Saul.
A First Century Terrorist
In Luke’s record of the Acts of the Apostles, chapter eight through nine gives us an interesting look at a famous terrorist of the first century; Saul of Tarsus. As chapter seven closes with the murder of Stephen for his faith we meet Saul who was overseeing the entire event, which scripture says Saul approved of his execution (Acts 8:1). The church experienced a great persecution following this event that Saul no doubt was the leader of. Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house…dragging of men and women and committing them to prison (Acts 8:3). This persecution resulted in the spread of the Christina faith to other areas as believers fled for their lives. This gave much joy to these outlying cities (Acts 8:8). But back in Jerusalem Saul was still breathing treats and murder against the disciples of the Lord (Acts 9:1) So Saul went to the authorities of his religion (the chief priest) and gained permission to take his program abroad to these other cities so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:2)
Against All Odds: A Terrorist Encounters Christ
But on his way to the first city on his mission of terror, accompanied with his small band of extremists, he had an encounter with the resurrected Christ. This encountered changed Saul in every way possible. The result of this change was that he was transformed from the leader of extremists who were waging a holy war against Christians, to becoming an Apostle of Christ writing and defending the Christian faith. This change then made him an enemy to his former murderous brethren, who then looked for ways to kill him (Acts 9:23; Acts 9:29). Yet these changes in Saul brought hesitation among the Christians. Ananias reminded God of the viciousness of Saul when asked to go me him (Acts 9:13), others were confused when he began to preach Christ (Acts 9:21), and the disciples were all afraid of him (Acts 9:26). Can we blame them? Imagine how you would have reacted if you learned reports of Osama Bin Laden preaching Jesus Christ.
Against All Odds: The Church Grows Under Oppression
The testimony of Saul’s conversion into the Apostle Paul is a lesson we need to hold onto in these days. We trend towards either hopelessness or anger in light of the reports of the outworking of these extreme followers of such an evil and demonic religion such as Islam. But the conclusion of this narrative of a first century encounter with terrorism was that the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers (Acts 9:31). Let’s not forget that! Therefore let us persevere in praying for the conversion of our enemies God may be glorified and the church increase. God saves against all odds!