I’ve been reading quite a bit this last week of a religious fundamentalist terrorist who abandoned his life of terrorism after having what he describes as an encounter with Jesus. This terrorist was notorious for terrorizing Christians in Israel, Lebanon and Syria. His most famous act of terror came when his followers publicly stoned a Christian relief worker who was heading up a ministry to feed poor widows in the Jerusalem metropolitan area. Oddly enough though, his conversion to Christianity came right in the middle of one of his terror campaigns when he describes bumping into Jesus himself. Whatever happened the churches of the area were not quite ready to welcome this “former” terrorist into their midst thinking that it could be yet another one of his ploys to persecute Christ followers.
Though the above story reads as if it could have come from recent headlines it is in reality based on the conversion of the Apostle Paul. Too often we read the words of Paul without reading his story, without understanding just how scandalous it was that this former religious fundamentalist terrorist became one of the greatest missionaries of Jesus in history. When one first gets acquainted with Paul’s story before reading his letters, one will find an experience of God’s grace deep in the core of his being.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 (NIV)
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
I find it interesting that when Paul bumps into Jesus while on a mission to persecute Christians he doesn’t face the wrath, anger, or judgment of God, though quite deserving of it, but rather faces incomprehensible and utterly scandalous GRACE. This experience of the grace of God would go on to permeate every letter Paul ever wrote and would compel him to go to the greatest lengths to tell anyone about what God had done.
Paul’s story shows us that the same Jesus who died for the very ones who were persecuting him is still reaching a hand of mercy out to the ones, like Paul, who seem to be the furthest away. That grace, that mercy, when received leaves an indelible mark upon one’s heart from which there is no recovery, ever… it is truly AMAZING GRACE!