Can Isa – Jesus – change the heart of a terrorist?
Hearts that are hard? Like a stone?
Everyone has heard of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), otherwise known as IS (Islamic State), or ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant).
ISIS is known for killing dozens of people at a time and carrying out public executions – beheadings and even crucifixions – of Shiite Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis. They have shot babies point blank in the head, gang-raped women and sold off women – as young as 14 – for as little as $25 – to their fighters. (one mother told the Kurdish news organization Rudaw that her three daughters committed suicide by jumping off a cliff after they were raped by Islamic State militants)
ISIS has forced people to convert to their interpretation of Islam, pay the tax, or be killed. The list of their atrocities is long, gruesome, and horrifying. ISIS militants are not Muslims, they’re “vicious. . .blood-thirsty. . . animals” says Ali Khedery, former assistant to 5 U.S. ambassadors to Iraq.
Truly their hearts are hard. Like a stone.
ISIS is probably the best known example in the world today of “religious cleansing” but in the first century, there was a Jewish extremist (we might call him a terrorist) who devoted himself entirely to the religious cleansing of Christians from Palestine. His name? Saul.
Listen how the Greek historian, Luke, described Saul:
“Saul just went wild, devastating the church, entering house after house after house, dragging men and women off to jail.” (Acts 8:3, MSG)
“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.” (Acts 9:1-2, NIV)
And listen how Saul described himself:
“For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.” (Galatians 1:13, NIV)
“I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison. . .” (Acts 22:4, NIV)
“‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 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.'” (Acts 22:19-20, NIV)
“For a time I thought it was my duty to oppose this Jesus of Nazareth with all my might. Backed with the full authority of the high priests, I threw these believers — I had no idea they were God’s people! — into the Jerusalem jail right and left, and whenever it came to a vote, I voted for their execution. I stormed through their meeting places, bullying them into cursing Jesus, (I was) a one-man terror obsessed with obliterating these people.” (Acts 26:9-11, MSG)
But something happened Saul – this hard-hearted extremist, this Jewish terrorist.
Saul met Isa al Masih – Jesus. Listen to his story (from Acts 26):
“I was so violently opposed to them (followers of Jesus) that I even chased them down in foreign cities. One day I was on such a mission to Damascus, armed with the authority and commission of the leading priests. About noon. . .as I was on the road, a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me and my companions.
We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.’
“‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked.
“And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. Tell people that you have seen me. . . I am sending you. . .to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’
“And so. . .I obeyed that vision from heaven. I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must repent of their sins and turn to God — and prove they have changed by the good things they do. Some Jews arrested me in the Temple for preaching this, and they tried to kill me. But God has protected me right up to this present time so I can testify to everyone, from the least to the greatest. I teach nothing except what the prophets and Moses said would happen — that the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead, and in this way announce God’s light. . .”
The hard heart of this Jewish terrorist – a heart of stone – was changed forever when he met Jesus.
It can happen to you and to me. It can even happen to ISIS leaders and soldiers.
Call on Isa. Jesus.
Because of his love and power, he can not only change our hearts, he can give us a new heart.