I imagine if the Apostle Paul had kept a journal prior to meeting Jesus on the Damascus Road, he would’ve written something like this, boasting of his persecution and essentially murder of Christians:
I bear witness that this is the truth: Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. When I go from town to town rounding up Christians to be killed, I take pleasure knowing that I am doing God’s will by removing their idolatry and blasphemy from the land. Those who claim that a mere man is God and can forgive their sins deserve to die. I approve of their executions. The message is simple: Continue to believe in these lies, and I’ll snuff out your life. Repent, or I’ll never stop. All for the glory of God.
If we had a copy of that journal entry today, it would serve as a powerful reminder of the darkness that God brought Paul out of. It would be a visible testament to who Paul was before he was completely transformed by the power of the Gospel.
I look at the photo of Jahar’s boat note, and that’s what I see. I see a visible testament to the incredible darkness that fills Jahar’s heart. Through it, I see who he is, a completely lost and evil young man with so much blood on his hands who completely deserves God’s wrath. But can’t that become who he was?
After all, that transformation happened for Paul. In 1 Timothy 1:12-16 he writes:
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
The Greek here for “insolent opponent” can also be translated “violent aggressor.” This violent opponent of God became a devoted follower of His, marked by the love and peace of Christ. He became a living testimony to the grace and mercy of God in Christ Jesus, who saved him, the “foremost” of sinners. Or as my study Bible notes put it, “Paul was living proof that God could save any sinner, no matter how great a one he might be.”
Do we truly believe that? Do we believe that despite all the evil Jahar, perhaps rightfully named among the worst of sinners, has done, God can still save him?
I do. I firmly believe that one day we will hear that Jahar became a Christian. And on that glorious day, we will look back on the boat note and be able to say with praise overflowing from our hearts, “That’s a vivid picture of who he was, but now he is a new creation in Christ.”
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
Oh God, may it be true one day that Jahar was a murderer but that he was washed white as snow by the precious blood of the Lamb. Write him a new manifesto, one that instead of proclaiming Islam and hatred, proclaims Jesus and His amazing love. In Jesus’ name, amen.