“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” – Matthew 5:44
Do you know who is the most famous religious terrorist of all time? We are first introduced to this man in the book of Acts. A crowd was stoning the Christian, Stephen, and laid their robes at his feet. His name was Saul and he was an up and coming aristocratic Jewish Roman citizen who had enthusiastically cheered Stephen’s stoning. Stephen became the first Christian martyr, as Saul continued his Christian persecution and began “ravaging the church, entering house after house; and dragging off men and women, and he would put them into prison.”
But there was something that haunted this man. It was a picture God kept putting in his mind. A picture of Stephen as he died, so pure, so at peace, so filled with love. He could not release from his mind how Stephen prayed for those who were killing him, and asked God to forgive them. And when Saul was going to Damascus to persecute Christians there, God had prepared his heart for a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. From that encounter his name was changed from Saul to Paul. He moved from being a religious terrorist to Christianity’s greatest missionary and theologian.
It should give us hope to know that God can even transform the life of a religious terrorist. And perhaps that is one reason that God demands that we pray for everyone, even our enemies, even those hostile to our faith, even those who persecute us – for Christ died for all and desires all to be transformed into a new creation from His power.