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Jesus Loves Terrorists - Acts 9:1-16

Taught on | Topic: Terrorism | Keywords: Saul of Tarsus, terrorists, terrorism, salvation, conversion, persecution, Islam, Muslims, ISIS, Islamic State, the state, government, pacifism, pacifist, war, peace, oppression, suffering

One magazine noted that "religious terrorism is the communism of the 21st century, the most serious international threat to human rights." I am aware that the title of this sermon is a strange one, and it's even stranger to think we should be told to love terrorists. Today we consider the stark reality of terror in our world and what a proper biblical response to it is, and we see the conversion of a terrorist who became Christianity's most celebrated cleric.

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5/17/2015
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Jesus Loves Terrorists
Acts 9:1-16
Skip Heitzig
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Message Summary
One magazine noted that "religious terrorism is the communism of the 21st century, the most serious international threat to human rights." I am aware that the title of this sermon is a strange one, and it's even stranger to think we should be told to love terrorists. Today we consider the stark reality of terror in our world and what a proper biblical response to it is, and we see the conversion of a terrorist who became Christianity's most celebrated cleric.
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Jesus Loves People

Jesus Loves People

Jesus loves people—all people:prostitutes, drug addicts, abusers—and you. This profound truth is at the very heart of the gospel. Jesus loves the unlovable and touches the untouchable, and during His time on earth, He was compassionate and merciful toward people from all walks of life. What would it be like if you personally encountered Him? Join Pastor Skip Heitzig in this series to learn more about God's radical love for you and fall more in love with the living Savior.

Visit jesuslovespeople.com for more information on this series.

FREE - Download Entire Series (MP3) (Help)

Outline

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  1. Terrorism Is a Reality (v. 1)

    1. The Ancient World

    2. The Modern World



  2. Terrorism Demands a Response (v. 2)


    1. The Biblical Response of Governments

    2. The Biblical Response of Individuals


  3. Terrorists Can Be Reached (vv. 4-16)


    1. An Impossible Case

    2. An Incredible Conversion


Study Guide

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Nothing is too hard for God to do, and no one is too lost for God to save. This truth is especially important as we consider this week's topic: terrorists. In the early church, the conversion of the terrorist Saul of Tarsus shook the ranks. His conversion, however, affirmed the words of Christ, who said, "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God" (Luke 18:27). Saul had terrorized Christians, yet this radical became an apostle. One of the church's greatest opponents became its greatest proponent, and a chief adversary became a chief advocate. In Acts 9, we make three discoveries about terrorism—three pieces to this complex puzzle, three realities that mark our world even as they marked the ancient world.

First, terrorism is a reality (see Acts 9:1-2). Persecuting Christians became Saul's obsession. We see that Stephen's killers "laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul" (Acts 7:58) and that Saul was "consenting to his death" (Acts 8:1). Furthermore, Saul "made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison" (Acts 8:3). The word havoc describes a wild boar rampaging through a garden or an army devastating a city. Something evil had happened inside Saul of Tarsus—his anger had fully taken over. Just before his conversion, he was "still breathing threats and murder" (Acts 9:1). He was intent on mobilizing his jihad and headed north to Damascus. Jesus, however, had other plans.

We are familiar with the rise of modern terrorism and its atrocities, but the Old Testament world was also full of terrorists. Nineveh (modern day Mosul, a center for ISIS) was a city of terrorists; Jonah did not want to go there because of their reputation for carnage. They tore off the lips and hands of victims, flayed captives alive, and piled up the skulls of their victims—and yet God wanted a message of repentance preached there. Jesus Himself lived under an occupying force—the iron fist of Rome—by which He was crucified. Crucifixion itself was state-sponsored terrorism, designed to terrorize people into compliance. On the other side of the terrorist spectrum were the Zealots, a local political movement that sought to overthrow Rome by violent means. And yet, Jesus chose Simon the Zealot to be one of the Twelve. And then we have Saul, an educated, intellectual terrorist from Tarsus who specifically targeted followers of Christ before Jesus got his attention. Read Paul's own admission of this in Galatians 1:13-24. We often consider terrorists to be unreachable by the love of Christ. Who in your life do you consider to be unreachable? When have you bravely and humbly used your testimony to reach out to such a person?

Next, terrorism demands a response (see Acts 9:2). Terrorism is a complicated issue—one that angers, saddens, and frightens us. How should we respond? In reading this passage, we distinguish two kinds of responses: our individual response as a believer and our government's response as a nation. Many Christians confuse or blend the two, drawing on the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus' command to turn the other cheek (see Matthew 5:38-48). However, that sermon is not a foreign policy statement but a personal strategy about how to respond to evil on an individual level. It is the job of the state to protect its citizens, but it is the mandate of the Christian to forgive our enemies. If that sermon was meant to be a national policy, it would be a permission slip for thugs and terrorists to wreak havoc! On the contrary, Romans 13 articulates that the state is a divinely ordered institution whose job is to punish evil (see vv. 3-4). Romans 12, however, teaches us the importance of personal forgiveness and the acceptance of persecution for the Lord's sake (see vv. 17-21). So, for society it is an eye for eye, but for the believer there is the encouragement that God will personally avenge the harm we've been done. It is not the church's job to stop oppression; it is the church's job to preach the gospel and accept the consequences of faithfully doing so. We overcome evil not through personal retaliation but by principled compassion. Skip told a story of how he met a pastor in Iraq who had been beaten by members of ISIS. This pastor told Skip that forgiveness is the only hope for Iraq's future. Do you hope that forgiveness can break the cycle of terror? How can this begin in your life? Who can you forgive that seems beyond God's reach?

Lastly, terrorists can be reached (see Acts 9:4-16). Jesus doesn't love terrorism, but He does love terrorists as people for whom He died. Often we don't want to hear this, but Saul's life proved this. What people have you written off as "Most Unlikely to Be Saved"? God can find a way where there is no way. Saul's past deeds haunted him; God took that haunting and turned it to healing and then to heralding. Many other terrorists throughout the history of the church have become children of Jesus. Remember, Jesus asked Saul why he had been persecuting Him (see Acts 9:4). In other words, Jesus takes the pain of those who suffer for His name's sake personally. We never suffer alone, and no blow struck on earth goes unfelt in heaven. Read 1 Timothy 1:15-16. God's presence is our comfort, but it's also part of His plan to love and radically save even the most unlikely people. When have you seen God find a way where there was no way? Why is this an essential part of His plan?

The Big Idea

None are too lost to save; nothing is too hard for God.

Detailed Notes

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  1. Introduction
    1. How can we say Jesus loves terrorists?
      1. Jesus does not love terrorism
      2. Jesus does love people who sin
    2. Nothing is too hard for God to do, and no one is too lost for God to save; Luke 18:27
    3. Acts 9 contains the conversion of a terrorist: Saul of Tarsus
      1. The radical became an apostle
      2. The chief antagonist became the chief protagonist
      3. The chief opponent became the main proponent for the gospel
      4. The adversary became the advocate
      5. One of the most monumental conversion stories in all of history
    4. 1 Timothy 1:13
    5. This is the story of a terrorist who terrorized in the name of religion against the Christian church; what happened then is being repeated today
  2. Terrorism Is a Reality (v. 1)
    1. The Ancient World
      1. Saul was obsessed with persecuting believers
      2. He had a seed of hatred and anger that grew as time went on
        1. Acts 7:58
        2. Acts 8:1, 3
        3. Havoc was a word used to describe a wild boar trampling a vineyard or an army devastating a city
      3. Saul wanted his murder show on the road, a mobile jihad
      4. Old Testament atrocities
        1. Nineveh: Jonah didn't want to go there for the very reason God wanted him to go there; Jonah 1:2
        2. Ancient Nineveh is modern-day Mosul
        3. Was known for its atrocities; Ashurbanipal, Tiglath-Pileser
      5. New Testament
        1. Jesus was put to death by Rome through crucifixion: state-sponsored terrorism
        2. Zealots: movement in Judaism to counteract the Roman occupation
          1. First-century political terrorists
          2. Sworn to overthrow the Roman government by violent means
        3. Simon the Zealot became an apostle of Christ
          1. Matthew the tax collector
          2. Zealots killed tax collectors
    2. The Modern World
      1. We only recently woke up to terrorism: September 11, 2001
      2. Terrorism is on the increase
        1. In the last year, almost 18,000 people were killed by terrorism—82 percent in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Syria
        2. From 2006-2013, 130,000 people were killed by terrorists
      3. Not all terrorism is Islamic, and not all Muslims are terrorists
        1. But the literature of Islam clearly states that heretics are to be killed
        2. Islam spread largely accompanying the killing of Jews and Christians
      4. The Islamic State has a stated goal to annihilate Christians
  3. Terrorism Demands a Response (v. 2)
    1. We need to differentiate between our individual response as a believer and our national response as a culture
      1. It's the job of the state to protect its citizens
      2. It is the mandate of the Christian to love all people and forgive our enemies
    2. Total pacifist position: Sermon on the Mount
      1. Matthew 5:38-39
      2. This is not a foreign policy statement; it is a personal strategy statement
      3. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
      4. To take Tolstoy's position would give a permission slip to every thug to do whatever they want
    3. The Biblical Response of Governments
      1. Romans 13:1-3
      2. The state is the divinely ordered institution to punish evil and protect its citizens
    4. The Biblical Response of Individuals
      1. Romans 12:17, 19
      2. Personal forgiveness and acceptance of persecution
      3. It's not the church's job to stop oppression, persecution, or terrorism; it's the church's job to preach the gospel and accept the consequences
      4. We overcome evil not by personal retaliation but by purposeful compassion
  4. Terrorists Can Be Reached (vv. 4-16)
    1. An Impossible Case
      1. The terrorist from Tarsus had an experience with the living Christ
      2. Do you think the early church was quick to embrace Paul? (see Acts 9:26)
      3. What people in your life have you written off as impossible cases?
    2. An Incredible Conversion
      1. God really loves terrorists; He went to extreme measures to save one
      2. God can find a way when there is no way
      3. "Why are you persecuting Me?" (v. 4)
        1. When you mess with Christians, you mess with God
        2. God is so aligned with His people that no blow on earth goes unfelt in heaven
        3. You never suffer alone; Jesus takes it personally and is with you personally
        4. Sometimes being with you in pain seems to matter more to Him than getting you out of pain
      4. Goads: sharpened pieces of wood used to motivate oxen and donkeys
        1. There was something pricking Saul's conscience
          1. He had seen hundreds of Jewish believers have their lives changed
          2. He just saw Stephen die; Acts 6:15; 7:60
        2. That haunting turned into humbling, and the humbling turned into heralding
    3. "The struggle must be waged on a variety of fronts: Christians praying always and everywhere; missionaries and local believers hazarding their lives in sharing the gospel in the most religiously repressive settings; relief agencies and local congregations refusing to discriminate in distributing aid to the needy; Christian diplomats employing all the wiles of their craft; and, yes, Christian fighter pilots, navy personnel, and infantry insisting, when other options are exhausted and military force is called for, that liberty must be respected and justice done" —Mark Galli

Figures referenced: Ashurbanipal, Tiglath-Pileser, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Galli

Cross references: Jonah 1:2; Matthew 5:38-39; Luke 18:27; Acts 6:15; 7:58, 60; 8:1, 3; 9:1-16, 26; Romans 12:17, 19; 13:1-3; 1 Timothy 1:13


Topic: Terrorism

Keywords: Saul of Tarsus, terrorists, terrorism, salvation, conversion, persecution, Islam, Muslims, ISIS, Islamic State, the state, government, pacifism, pacifist, war, peace, oppression, suffering

Transcript

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Hello and welcome to this teaching from Skip Heitzig pastor of Calvary Albuquerque. We pray that God uses these messages to draw people in to His love and we're grateful to hear when that happens. If this message revolutionizes your walk with Christ, we'd like to know. Email us at mystory@calvaryabq.org. And if you'd like to support this ministry financially, you can give online securely at calvaryabq.org/giving. In this series called Jesus Loves People, we learn about God's love for all people from all walks of life. It's strange to think that we should be told to love terrorists, so in this study we consider the stark reality of terror in our world and what a proper Biblical response to it is. Now turn your Bibles to Acts chapter 9; as Skip begins the message Jesus Loves Terrorists.

Skip Heitzig: Turn in your Bibles, please, to Acts chapter 9. In February, a man was shot in Syria. He was a 32-year-old member of the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State, ISIS. It happened in Syria; he was riddled with bullets, shot, and presumed to be dead, but Christian missionaries found his body and carried it about fifteen miles to give him a decent burial. They thought he was dead; he wasn't dead. This 32-year-old ISIS terrorist had always believed that if he died in the cause of jihad, he would have immediate entrance into heaven. But he said that, in that state between unconsciousness and consciousness during that time he said, he was carried off by the djinns. Djinns are demons in Islamic theology. And the demons carried him to the brink of the fiery pits of hell and told him that he would have to relive all of the pain and all of the atrocities he committed on people while he lived on the earth. He would have to relive the decapitations, the beheadings, the pain inflicted through the eyes of his victims. Just then, he said, in that same state, God spoke to him and told him, "That if you were to die right now, you would not enter My heaven. And if you choose to die, you will not go to heaven, but if you choose to live," he reports, God said, "I will give you another chance to repent and follow My true Way." He awoken from that state, taken by Christian missionaries, and gave his life to Christ. That happened in February of this year. (applause)

I wanted to begin with that story because of the title of this message. What kind of a title is that---Jesus Loves Terrorists? What kind of a topic is that? Most people, that's an abhorrent thought to them, because terrorists have inflicted more damage on this planet and the inhabitants there of than just about anything else. So where do we come off saying Jesus loves terrorists? We need to make a distinction in this whole series but especially today. We're not saying that Jesus loves terrorism. We're not declaring that Jesus loves crime or murder or prostitution. We are declaring that Jesus loves people who sin. Even if that sin is the worst kind of atrocity that you can imagine, God still wants to reach people and save them. And we need to make that clear. Listen, I struggled with this. I was not looking forward to preaching a message on "Jesus loves terrorists," because when I hear these things that go on our world, overseas, my blood boils. And I remember, after the Twin Towers fell in New York City, that I was onsite for three weeks, assisting on what they called "The Pile" pulling body parts out of "The Pile", and going to the morgue in New York City; different morgues to be with family members identifying a victim, as a relative. That that does something to you. That that tweaks with your mind.

So, as we turn to Acts chapter 9, we have to make the affirmation, then, that nothing is too hard for God to do, and no one is too lost for God to save. As Jesus put it, "The things that are impossible with men are possible with God." We have in Acts chapter 9 the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. It's the conversion of a terrorist. He terrorized the early Christian church, but he became saved; he became converted. The radical became an apostle. The chief antagonist became the chief protagonist. The chief opponent became the main proponent for the gospel. The adversary became the advocate. Saul of Tarsus will became Paul the Apostle, and it is one of the most monumental conversion stories in all of history, and probably, certainly, the most dramatic in all of the Bible. It's so dramatic that even the apostle himself, years later, said, "Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, yet I obtained mercy." This terrorist obtained mercy. We're about to read about it. Now, as we do, as we come to Acts chapter 9, there are three discoveries we need to make about terrorism, three pieces to a very complicated puzzle, an issue that affects us today and affected the early church back then. Because what we have here, in the story we're about to read, is a terrorist who terrorizes in the name of religion against the Christian church. Does that sound familiar? Does that sound contemporary? That's because it is. What happened then is being repeated today in so many places.

So, here's the first discovery, the first puzzle piece: terrorism is a reality. It's the most obvious truth, but it must be stated. Terrorism is a reality, and it is becoming a growing reality. In Acts chapter 9, verse 1, we read, "Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went up to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of 'the Way'"---that's what Christians were called then; believers were called "the Way"---"whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem." So, we open up this story and we discover this man named Saul of Tarsus, who is absolutely obsessed with persecuting believers. It became the very air he breathed. He's breathing in and out; murders and threats. He's fixated on it; he is preoccupied with it. And if you follow his story or if you know it, you discover that this man had a seed of hatred and anger that is fueled, that it seems to grow, as the story goes on.

We first really read about him a couple chapters back. In chapter 7 of Acts---you can look at it in verse 58---Stephen is being martyred; he is being stoned to death. And the perpetrators of the crime, we are told in Acts 7:58, lay their clothes down "at the feet of a young man named Saul." He watches it happen; he's on the scene as the first martyr is dying the death of stoning. Then we come to chapter 8, verse 1; and it says that "Saul was consenting to his death." So, please get the picture: he's saying, "Amen! Yes! This is right. Do this. Throw another rock!"

Then, the story goes on. Two verses later, Acts chapter 8 verse 3: Saul "made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and dragging off both men and women, committing them to prison." The word havoc is a very strong word. It was a word used to describe a wild boar trampling a vineyard, rampaging through a garden. It was the same word used of an army devastating a city, laying it flat, laying it waste. Something has happened in the psyche of Saul of Tarsus, where a seed of bitter anger grows and grows, until we open up in verse 1 of chapter 9: "Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder..." In other words, he's been doing it, and he's still doing it. Not only is he still doing it, he's obsessed with it. He's so obsessed with it that he's not content with just containing the terrorism to Jerusalem; he wants his murder show on the road. He wants to go on a mobile jihad. He asked for permission to travel 160 miles north of Jerusalem to the city of Damascus, where there is a significant Jewish enclave of believers in Christ. He wants to strike while the iron is hot. He's still breathing out this noxious air of terrorism.

Saul reminds me of Mustafa from Yemen. As a young man, Mustafa became radicalized and subscribed to a very radical form of Islam, and as soon as he became radicalized, he immediately went out and burned a church down to the ground---a church in his village. And the Christians who attended that church, he stole what they had. His rationale was this quote: "I was filled with hatred for Christians. Christians have no rights." End quote. Very similar mentality to what Saul of Tarsus was doing, though he was doing it with a Judaistic bent, seeing Christianity as a cult that needs to be stopped. So was Mustafa, but in a different religion, framework.

So, terrorism in the ancient world was real. And you could go further back, you could go all the way to the Old Testament. There are numerous atrocities that are written about in those eras and some worse than others. One of the most notable were the Ninevites. Do you remember the city of Nineveh? Remember the prophet sent to Nineveh? Who was the reluctant prophet that didn't want to go to Nineveh? Jonah. And God had to get his attention, right? You know the fish story because he didn't want to go there and he didn't want to go there for the very reason God wanted him to go there: He said, "Go to Nineveh and cry out against it" -listen to what God said---"for its wickedness has come up before Me." There was a level of atrocity and wickedness that God said, "I notice, and I want you to proclaim judgment." Here's what's interesting about Nineveh: ancient Nineveh is modern-day Mosul, in modern Iraq. It is one of the centers of the Islamic State. In the last year, they have taken over Mosul---Nineveh. And it's almost ironic, almost perfectly fitting, because ancient Nineveh was known for its atrocities. A couple of Assyrian kings, like Ashurbanipal and Tiglath-Pileser, both of them were known for doing things like pulling the hands off of their victims---pulling them, yanking them off the arms of their victims. Pulling off the lips of their victims. Flaying them alive---that is, skinning them alive. And then piling up great piles of their skulls in front of the gateways of Nineveh, like trophies of those they had beheaded.

So, that was going on then and we move to the New Testament and we find that Jesus was put to death by Rome through crucifixion, which is nothing less than state-sponsored terrorism---crucifying victims to bring terror and fear, to strike a shudder into the hearts of anyone who would see such a vicious act. Not only that, but did you know that there was a movement in Judaism to counteract the Roman occupation? They were known as Zealots. I know you read your New Testament, but I wonder if you know what Zealots are. They were first century political terrorists. They were sworn to overthrow the Roman government in their region by violent means. What's fascinating about this is Jesus picks one of them to be on His staff. Simon the Zealot became an apostle of Christ. So He brings one of them as one of His apostles. What's humorous about that is that another one of His apostles was Matthew the tax collector. And history tells us that Zealots killed tax collectors because they worked for Rome. So, what a volatile staff combination! It's like Jesus had His own mini jihad wherever He went, just in His apostles. And then we come to Saul of Tarsus, who terrorized the early church, breathing out threats and murder against them.

So, we know terrorism is a reality, always has been to some extent throughout history, and it is today. However, we've only in this country, in this culture, just come to realize it. It really was September 11, 2001 that was a wake-up call. It was for us the introduction to the knowledge of terrorism. It has become seared into the collective consciousness of America. We woke up that day to realize there's a lot of people that don't like us and have an agenda against us and our country, the West, and even Christians in particular. It was indeed a defining moment. And that form of terrorism is not subsiding; it is on the increase. You know in the last year, you know how many people were killed last year by terrorism alone? Almost 18,000. The stats that I read, 17,958 people killed by terrorists in one year. Eighty-two percent of them happened in five countries and I'll give them by the list of frequency of atrocities: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Syria. Eighty-two percent. In the last seven years, from 2006-2013, 130,000 people were killed by terrorists.

Now, it does need to be said that not all terrorism is Islamic and not all Muslims are terrorists. There are moderate Muslims; there are peace-loving Muslims. We would call them moderate; we would call them theological liberals in Islam; they don't really hold to the teachings, the traditional interpretations. We would see them on the liberal side of their theology and they would shun terrorism. However, having said that, if you go to the literature of Islam itself---the Qur'an, the Hadith, the Sunnah---you discover that it clearly states that heretics are to be killed. And that goes back 1,400 years to its beginning with Muhammad the prophet, when Christians and Jews were seen as heretics. And the way it was birthed, Islam spread largely accompanied the killing of both Jews and Muslims.

In fact---it was interesting---I was in Iraq a couple months ago, and I'm speaking with all sorts of people on this issue, and a couple of them who are scholarly said, "This is what we have noticed. Most of the people in our culture in Iraq, most of the Muslims are just cultural Muslims. They're Muslim because they were raised Muslim." It's sort of like people saying they're Christian because they were raised Christian. They're really not in their heart believers. But he said, "These people in this country, they've never read the Qur'an; they're illiterate." They don't read. So, when all these atrocities started happening with ISIS, they wanted to find out, "What do we believe in?" So they would have people who could read, read the Qur'an to them. And he said, "Now what they're realizing is that Muhammad was Islam 1.0 and ISIS is Islam 2.0." It's the same thing that 1.0 was, just in a modern setting. They're coming to grips with a belief system that, having now understood it, a lot of them don't want to be a part of it. But ISIS in particular---the Islamic State---has a stated goal to annihilate Christians. We are standing in the way, and the West is standing in the way, to their objective of global conquest.

Terrorism is a reality, which brings us to the second component, the second puzzle piece, the second discovery about terrorism: it demands a response. Terrorism demands a response. What is the response to terrorism? It's a complicated question. What should our response be? It is the question right now being dialogued on news channels across this country every single day. What is your response to it? I wonder how you personally feel about it.

I believe we need to differentiate between two different responses. Hear me closely on this, please. That is, we have to make the distinction between our individual response as a believer and our national response as a culture. Two different issues: our individual response as a believer, our national response as a culture. It is the job of the State to protect its citizens. It is the mandate of the Christian to love all people and forgive even our enemies. But both of them are a reality. This is important because whenever this discussion is raised, someone will invariably take the pacifistic position---the total pacifistic position---and they'll quote the Sermon on the Mount. And the Sermon on the Mount quote is in Matthew chapter 5, verse 38: Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also." Now, Jesus said that. And I believe that. And you believe that. But listen: that is not a foreign policy statement. That is a personal strategy statement. That's not a national policy; that's a personal policy. He's speaking to kingdom-dwellers and telling them how they are to respond to their world.

Why is this important? Because a century and a half ago, a very famous book was written that still influences people today, called War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, the Russian novelist. And he read the Sermon on the Mount, and those two verses I just quoted became this seminal idea for the book War and Peace. And Tolstoy called for the elimination of the military, the elimination of the police force, the elimination of courts, the elimination of judges. Why? Because those are the people that resist evil in society. Again, however, Jesus wasn't giving a foreign policy statement but a personal strategy statement. If we were to take that position that Tolstoy advocates, we are essentially giving a permission slip to every thug who walks the earth to do whatever they want---"Go ahead and walk all over me, I'm a doormat; do whatever you want to our culture." That's why we need to make the distinction between the individual response as a believer and the national response as a culture.

So, let me show you the difference; it's quite simple, actually, quite simple. On one hand, we are citizens of a nation, and Paul in Romans 13 says that we are to submit to our government ordained by God to protect us. Romans 13, I quote: Governments have been placed in power by God, so those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God and punishment will follow. The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong. In other words, the State is the divinely ordered institution to punish evil and protect its citizens. However, a few verses before that, in Romans 12, Paul writes this, Romans 12 verse 17: "Repay no one evil for evil. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord." Now, he's dealing with personal forgiveness and acceptance of persecution that comes our way. So, for society, for the State, "an eye for an eye" is still the law of the land; if you commit a crime, the State will mete out punishment for the crime committed. That's how citizens get protected. But when it comes to personal attack, or when you are in the line of persecution, or even terrorism, on a personal level, "Vengeance is Mine," says the Lord. "I will repay."

Listen. It is not the church's job to stop oppression. It is not the church's job to stop persecution. It is not the church's job to stop terrorism. It is the church's job to preach the gospel and accept the consequences of preaching the gospel. That's what we do. So, when evil comes our way because we preach the gospel, we are to overcome evil with good. On a personal level, we don't retaliate. We overcome evil not by personal retaliation but by purposeful compassion. And that's what you have done so admirably, so well. You know how you did it? We raised almost $150,000, and we've distributed it---and you can see where the money has gone at our kiosk---and you can see how Reload Love has reached out and found people in that country who are ministering to families who are broken, children who are orphaned, to give them that kind of compassion.

When I was in Iraq, it was the last day, in Erbil. And on the outskirts of Erbil, there is a camp called the Mar Elias Camp. I was touring it with the man who ran the camp---refugees, children, parents starting a new life as displaced people---and I never would have known unless he told me himself that this gentle, sweet, loving, smiling man was once captured by ISIS and had his teeth kicked in. And he escaped, and now he is a clergyman, running this camp, ministering to people. And he said this: "The future, the answer, for Iraq, is forgiveness. If we don't inject forgiveness into this culture," he said, "all we're going to do is raise up another cycle of vengeance---another group of angry young men who take up the cause and go kill, and another group of angry young men who take up the cause and kill." He said, "I want to raise a generation of forgivers, and those who love Christ and spread the gospel." He said, "That is the only hope for my country." And that's why a lot of the money we raised went to that camp.

Now, terrorism is a reality, terrorism demands a response, and the third piece to this puzzle, the third reality, is the obvious message of our text, and that is, terrorists can be reached. And I submit to you Exhibit 'A', Saul of Tarsus. Verse 3: "As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?' And he said, 'Who are You, Lord?' The Lord said, 'I am Jesus.'" Boy, don't you think he got a little lump in his throat about then? Don't you think it was a hard swallow in hearing the name Jesus speaking to him? "'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' And so he, trembling and astonished, said, 'Lord, what do You want me to do?' The Lord said to him, 'Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.' And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank."

Saul of Tarsus---the terrorist from Tarsus---has an experience with the living Christ. And later on, he shows up among believers and he says, "I'm saved now! I'm converted!" Now, do you think they were quick to say, "Hallelujah! Let me embrace you with a big Christian hug!"? No. The Bible tells us they were very reticent, very skittish, because Saul was considered an impossible case. People wrote him off. What do you think it would be like to be in the early church, you're sitting there with your scroll, Peter's preaching, and suddenly, Saul of Tarsus---your archenemy---walks in with his scroll and sits next to you, and says, "Hallelujah, praise the Lord"? You'd like move a couple rows away, wouldn't you? Here's what it would be like. Imagine if Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi walked into this church. You know who he is, right? He's the head of ISIS. He's the guy, the caliph of the caliphate of ISIS in the Middle East. He's killed thousands---thousands!---of Christians. Imagine him walking in and sitting next to you, with a nice little smile on his face. You're wondering, Why is he looking at me that way? Or what if the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei---the chief leader of Iran---came in and sat next to you? He went on record as saying that, if Christ were alive today, He would fight America. So, he sits next to you---what're you going to do? You're going to move a couple churches down, right? This is Saul of Tarsus. This is the guy who was in his high school annual in the section "Most Unlikely to Convert to Christianity"---that's his picture right there! He's the guy who has this incredible conversion.

That leads me to a question: what people in your life have you written off as impossible cases? They're in the trash bin, never going to get saved, no hope for that person. I hope that this story gives you hope. Well, verses 3 and 4, I read that and I think, God must've really wanted this guy saved. He really loves terrorists, because He's going to extreme measures to save one. Aren't you glad for the Hound of Heaven? Aren't you glad for the Holy Spirit, who chases down your relatives---that lost son, that addicted husband? Goes after them.

I read a story by a man by the name of Daniel Shayesteh, an Iranian. Thirty years ago---some of you will remember this thirty years ago---he was part of the coup to overthrow the government of Iran, the shah of Iran. He wanted to institute Islamic law, Sharia law. He was part of that group. He said, and I'm quoting him, "My background is radical Islam. When you read the Qur'an, it says you must destroy other religions, Christians and Jews. You cannot expect them to value your values." Well, Daniel was put in prison. And in prison, something happened to him. He became very disillusioned---disillusioned with life, disillusioned with his cause, disillusioned with the coup he was staging, disillusioned with his religion---and one night in his cell, Daniel Shayesteh had a dream. In his dream, he saw himself in his father's house. And outside, he heard Jesus calling him: "Daniel"---sort of like Saul---"come out of the house. It's Jesus. Come out of the house." In his dream, he walks outside of his house; in his dream, he turns around, and his father's house crumbles to the ground, to shreds, obliterated. He woke up, shaken from the dream, and in prison, Daniel Shayesteh gave his life to Christ. You know how many stories like that I have read, and read and read, of people in impossible situations, where the gospel can't be preached, missionaries can't go, churches can't be built---it's impossible to get to them---but by a dream or a vision or a semi-conscious state, like that 32-year old ISIS man we began the message about, I hear about these things happening---Muslims, and even terrorists, who get saved, and here's the bottom line: God can find a way when there is no way. And I hope---I hope---that we will engage this battle believing that, that we will be praying not only for brothers and sisters who are persecuted but the perpetrators of the persecution and the terrorists themselves. Imagine some of them are getting saved, but imagine if many more of them came to Christ, how upsetting that would be to the network of terrorists around the world.

Well, look at verse 4: he heard a voice saying Saul---this was Jesus speaking to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?'" You know, when I read this, I'm amazed, actually, that Jesus begins talking to him by just saying, "Saul." You know, I can think of a lot of choice things to say to this guy and none of them are what I read. I think if I were Jesus, I would've said, "Hey! Idiot! You want some'a dis?" (laughter) But He's so respectful. He doesn't take away his name: "Saul. Saul." But then the question: "Why are you persecuting Me?" He's probably going, "Wh-what? I'm not persecuting you---who are you?" "I'm Jesus." "Uh-oh. You're who? You're Jesus? Wait a minute! Jesus is dead, He doesn't exist, He's been killed. This is a sham. That's what I believed until like two seconds ago, when You just told me Your name was Jesus. Now I'm rethinking this whole thing."

Right. That's what was going on in his mind; he doesn't believe that Jesus is in the present tense alive talking to him. But He is. And He says, "Why are you persecuting Me?" How do you think that sounded to Saul of Tarsus? He's thinking, I'm not persecuting You, I'm persecuting them. I'm terrorizing them; I'm after Christians. Jesus said, "No, you're not. When you touch them, you touch Me. You mess with them, you mess with Me. I am so aligned with My people that no blow on earth goes unfelt in heaven. I am the sympathetic high priest and you, in effect, are persecuting Me." This is a great truth for anybody who suffers oppression or terrorism: you never suffer alone. Jesus takes it personally and Jesus is with you personally. And sometimes, when you suffer, just having Him there is enough.

I read a book put out by a very prominent Christian counselor, who said something happened to him when he was three years old that made him think, that is what the Christian life is going to be like for me. Let me tell you his story. He said, "I was three years old and, as a little boy, I thought, I need to go to the bathroom. I think I'm three years old now; I think I can do this on my own." So he walked up the stairs to his house, closed the bathroom door, locked it, and went to the bathroom. After he was done, he couldn't unlock the door. It was one of those stiff locks, where you have to twist it with real force to get it unlocked and opened at the same time. He couldn't do that. So, he's banging on the door and he's yelling and his mom comes up, "Honey, are you okay? Did you hit your head?" They're all panicking. Father thinks very quickly, gets out a ladder, runs it up the side of the house, climbs up the ladder, pries open the window, jumps in the room, goes past his son, and with one movement jerks open the door, unlocks it, and frees his son.

Now, this boy grows up and becomes a Christian counselor and says, "Now, that's what I thought the Christian life was going to be like for me---that every time I have a difficulty, God will show up in the room, walk past me, unlock the door, and spring me free. He said, "I've come to find out something differently. Oh, He comes into my room. Oh, He shows up into my world, but sometimes He just sits down with me there. And He's just with me there." And he said, "Sometimes, being with you in pain seems to matter more to Him than getting you out of pain." But He's with you, He tracks with you, He relates to you.

"Saul, why do you persecute Me?" And then He says, "It's hard for you to kick against the goads." Goads were stickers, pricks; they were sharpened pieces of wood used to motivate oxen and donkeys. You know, sometimes those animals just want to stand there, and owners have to get work done, and they want to motivate them and you can't have a therapy session, you have to poke it. And when you poke it, they get the message and they move. Those are goads. "Saul, it's hard for you to kick against the goads." There's something pricking his conscience. What is it? What is it?

What's goading him? What's pricking his conscience? Well, we don't know, but I can put two and two together and pretty safely guess: He has seen hundreds of Jewish believers in Jesus have their lives changed. They're happy, they're saved, they're being persecuted, but they're free. That bothers him. That goads at him; that pricks his conscience; haunts him. And, number two, he has seen a young man named Stephen just die. He was the guy egging them on. He watched him bleed to death after getting pelted with rocks---stoned to death. And the Bible says he looked at Stephen's face and it looked like the face of an angel. And his last words were, "Don't let this sin be laid to their charge. Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." I think seeing that happen---nobody's died like that that he remember; that haunted him. And the haunting turned into humbling and the humbling turned into heralding the gospel message. This terrorist was changed. He was reached by Christ.

So, terrorism is real, terrorism demands a response---the dual response, individually and nationally---and terrorists can be reached. I want to close with a paragraph. I read a whole article; I'll spare you. But it's just a paragraph of a large article that I read in Christianity Today. Very well thought out on our response to this issue. And it frames it quite nicely, sums it all up beautifully, and it's so good, I couldn't do a better job, so I'll just read you what he said, Mark Galli wrote this:

"The struggle must be waged on a variety of fronts: Christians praying always and everywhere; missionaries and local believers hazarding their lives in sharing the gospel in the most religiously repressive settings; relief agencies and local congregations refusing to discriminate in distributing aid to the needy; Christian diplomats employing all the wiles of their craft; and, yes, even Christian fighter pilots, navy personnel, and infantry; insisting, when other options are exhausted and military force is called for, that liberty must be respected and justice must be done."

Father, for us to respond to a very real threat, a present danger, it takes courage. Courage for us to stop long enough to think through what the issues are, courage enough for us to read our Bibles and discover what You said our response should be, courage enough to get involved as citizens as well as individuals, wanting to see justice but extending forgiveness, and walking that balance. We pray for brothers and sisters who are being slaughtered; their families are bereft. Simply because they believe in Jesus, their heads are cut off. Like the ancient Ninevites, these people are brutalizing our own family members in Christ. We pray for strength to endure; we pray for grace to suffer well. It has always been the case that Christians have loved their enemies, prayed for those who persecuted them, and endured great suffering at the hands of the world. It's something we anticipate and expect; it's something Jesus predicted. But give great strength to those who are enduring it, and their family members.

We also pray, Father, for the perpetrators, the terrorists themselves, blinded to the meaning of life, the sacredness of life, not seeing the people that they kill as even being human. We pray, Father, that you would reach them, like Saul of Tarsus. Radically save more. You can do it, Lord; we pray You would. I pray that we'd be committed to praying these prayers.

Then, Father, we pray for our government and governments around the world, for wisdom to protect their citizens and to stop the slaughter. There have been thousands upon thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people who have been slaughtered. So, Father, give us wisdom, because this problem is soon not going to be academic or theological---something we preach in a sermon---but it's going to be something we face the next day. Give us grace; give us courage. In these days, Lord, You are weeding out true and false believers; that's why we need courage and strength to be Your men and women in the culture we find ourselves in, for Your Glory, in Jesus' name. Amen.

Nobody is beyond the reach of God's grace. So if God isn't willing to give up on anyone, we shouldn't either. Did God bring you back from what seems to be unreachable place, let us know; email mystory@calvaryabq.org. And just a reminder you can give financially to this work at calvaryabq.org/giving. Thank you for listening to this message from Skip Heitzig of Calvary Albuquerque.

Additional Messages in this Series

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1/25/2015
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Jesus Loves People
Mark 10:21;Philippians 1:8-10
Skip Heitzig
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Welcome to our new weekend series, Jesus Loves People! For the next many weeks, we will observe how Jesus' love for people was displayed and conveyed to a cross section of society. We will see Him as He loves the most religiously devout folks to the weak and doubting, from the prostitutes to the priests, from the bewildered to the brokenhearted. We will marvel at His love for thieves, murderers, and atheists. In each message, we will consider how we as God's people can show authentic love to people within each group.
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2/1/2015
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Jesus Loves Doubters
Matthew 11; John 20
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Jesus never turned away the questions of a sincere searcher. I have personally wrestled with issues of faith and doubt on a number of occasions. Oswald Chambers quipped, "Doubt is not always a sign that a man is wrong; it may be a sign that he is thinking." Today we will see how Jesus loved two doubters—both of whom were friends of His.
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2/8/2015
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Jesus Loves the Broken
John 5:1-16
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Just about everyone who has ever lived has experienced a broken heart to some degree or another. But then there are others who have been affected so adversely by events in their lives that they can be described as broken people. We can respond by questioning why God allows bad things to happen or by loving the broken in His name and thus being part of the solution.
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3/8/2015
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Jesus Loves Homosexuals - Part 1
John 8:1-11
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There is not a hotter or more controversial subject being discussed today in our country than homosexuality. Voices are loud and tempers run hot whenever this subject is mentioned. Although the text before us doesn’t deal specifically with homosexuality, it does show us how Jesus approached a woman caught in sexual sin and what He had to say to those who were quick to condemn her.
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3/15/2015
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Jesus Loves Homosexuals - Part 2
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
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Be assured that I didn't select the topics in this series because I am equating homosexuals with murderers; nor am I suggesting that addicts or homeless people are to be seen the same as terrorists. It’s simply that the church has historically been unkind to these groups, and we believe it is time to make the statement that Jesus loves all people. In today’s text, we see it clearly: everyone has some kind of past, and everyone can be freed from sin.
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3/22/2015
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Jesus Loves Haters
Matthew 5:43-46;Luke 9:51-56
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One of the worst things to ever hear or say are the words "I hate you." And since Jesus is the One who God sent to show love to the world, how He handled haters is significant. Today we will explore and hopefully apply two important lessons. Hatred can flow in two directions: hatred towards you and hatred from you. Jesus shows us what to do about both. Get ready by turning to two passages: Matthew 5 and Luke 9.
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3/29/2015
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Jesus Loves Traitors
Matthew 26
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The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a traitor as "one who betrays another's trust or is false to an obligation or duty." On this Palm Sunday, I've chosen to consider in contrast the two traitors seen side by side in the New Testament accounts of the Passion of Christ. Though we may see some similarities in Judas and Peter, they are separated by one giant factor—the cross of Jesus Christ, the one thing that still offends most people.
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4/12/2015
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Jesus Loves Atheists
John 18:28-38
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Yes, Jesus loves people who don't believe in Him or who aren't sure what they think about Him. Pontius Pilate was the cynical Roman governor of the district of Judea. He was unsympathetic to religious Jews and religion itself. He had no room for the superstitious claims of prophets, priests, or would-be messiahs. He was a secular pragmatist concerned about Roman order and personal advancement. Pilate also represents how Jesus loved and handled atheists—and how we should.
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4/19/2015
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Jesus Loves Prostitutes
Luke 7:36-50
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It was Blaise Pascal who noted, "There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus." In our text today, we find a woman, the city prostitute who acutely felt the need to have the vacuum of her heart filled. She discovered that Jesus loved her with a wholesome love—the kind of love every woman is searching for.
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4/26/2015
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Jesus Loves Murderers
Luke 23:33-34
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A Jewish proverb reads, "Blood that has been shed does not rest." And yet there is rest that is possible for even the worst murderers of all time—those who killed Jesus Christ—if they would be willing to receive it. In two verses of Scripture, we will examine how Jesus loves murderers, even those who murdered Him.
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5/3/2015
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Jesus Loves Criminals
Luke 23:33-43
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A lengthy seventeen-year study in Washington, D.C. by psychiatrist Samuel Yochelson shows that crime cannot be traced to environment, poverty, or oppression but to people making wrong moral choices. Corresponding to that is another report showing that the lack of proper moral training by parents has a direct correlation to crime, especially to children in their formative years. But when parents and their offspring fail, Jesus can step in to rescue.
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6/7/2015
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Jesus Loves Addicts
Luke 4; Matthew 11
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When a person ingests a substance or engages in an activity that provides temporary pleasure and then such acts become compulsive and interfere with ordinary life responsibilities, he or she is said to be an addict. Addictive behavior is widespread and is one of the reasons many addicts turn to Christ for help. Jesus has a special message for them and a special plan to help them. As the body of Christ to our generation, shouldn’t the church be part of that plan?
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6/28/2015
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Jesus Loves People, BUT...
Romans 2:1-11
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In this last message of our series Jesus Loves People, we want to bring equilibrium to the series itself. It’s true that God loves people. It’s equally true that He hates evil and the practice of it. Today we want to show how both the wrath of God and the love of God are integral parts of the nature of God Himself. This is crucial so that we don’t distort Him to the world and mislead people eternally. Let’s consider three requirements for representing the God who loves people.
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There are 13 additional messages in this series.