Tuesday, August 15, 2006

When Witnessing to Muslims... Get to Jesus

"Jesus is a respected prophet of Allah. He was born to the virgin Mary and he did miracles, including speaking while an infant, raising the dead, and healing people. He will return in judgment."

Any Muslim you meet is likely to affirm these statements. These are the teachings of the Qu'ran. But, these statements are likely to be quickly followed up with urgent qualifications.

"But, he is not the son of God. Allah has no sons and no partners. There is but one God. And, he did not die on the cross, that is not a worthy death for a messenger of Allah. He was only made to look like he died on the cross. The followers of Jesus make a blasphemous mistake in making him an equal with Allah."

Now there is the rub! It's amazing how two groups could have so much in common and yet be miles apart in their meanings. But that is precisely the case with any discussion between Muslims and Christians.

How is one to cross this chasm, to speak into the dark cavernous void that separates the two positions? What is the Christian responsibility when we come to this impasse?

Well, neither our message or our method is to change. We proclaim (method) the truth about the One who is the way, the truth and the life (message). But where does one start?

I've found it helpful to start with as clear a statement of the consequences or risks associated with how we answer this question. That is... whether we spend eternity in heaven or in an agonizing hell facing God's wrath depends on who we say Jesus is. It's helpful to make it clear that this is no matter for light, impersonal speculation or intellectual sparring. This is a matter of eternal life and death. This is the ultimate question, "Who do you say that I am?"

Second, it's useful if you can to start with the common ground that is afforded. The Qu'ran, while not a revelation from God, is not completely without truth in some matters. And where Jesus is concerned, there are at least a few things to start with, things that most Muslims don't connect into a coherent whole when it comes to a doctrine of Jesus.

  • Jesus was virgin born. That's obviously taught in the prophets (Isaiah, for example) and the gospels. But it's also taught clearly in the Qu'ran (Surah 3:45-48, 19:20ff). But the fact of His virgin birth isn't the issue, the reason for and meaning of His virgin birth is.

  • Jesus was faultless. In Surah Maryam we read, "He said: I am only a messenger of thy Lord that I may bestow on thee a faultless son." The promise or sign given is not just a sinless, which would be miraculous enough, but for a perfectly faultless son. We find the same thing taught in several Hadiths. For example, Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith, Hadith 4.506, narrated by Abu Huraira reads: "The Prophet said, 'When any human being is born, Satan touches him at both sides of the body with his two fingers, except Jesus, the son of Mary, whom Satan tried to touch but failed, for he touched the placenta-cover instead'." We also read in Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith, Hadith 4.641, narrated by Said bin Al Musaiyab: Abu Huraira said, "I heard Allah's Apostle saying, 'There is none born among the off-spring of Adam, but Satan touches it. A child therefore, cries loudly at the time of birth because of the touch of Satan, except Mary and her child."

  • Jesus was "strengthened with the Holy Spirit" (Sur. 2:87). In Surah 2:253 we read: "Those messengers We endowed with gifts, some above others: To one of them Allah spoke; others He raised to degrees (of honour); to Jesus the son of Mary We gave clear (Signs), and strengthened him with the holy spirit." Many will argue that this reference to the "holy spirit" is a reference to Gabriel the angel. But if so, the Qu'ran suffers from a classic contradiction for in several places the angels and the Spirit are mentioned as different beings. "The angels and the spirit ascend unto him in a Day the measure whereof is (as) fifty thousand years" (Surah 70:4). "The Day that the Spirit and the angels will stand forth in ranks, none shall speak except any who is permitted by (Allah) Most Gracious, and He will say what is right" (Surah 78:38; see also 97:1-5). Clearly, the Spirit is not an angel and is responsible for strengthening Jesus during His earthly ministry.

So, the Qu'ran and the Hadith support the view that Jesus was virgin born, sinless, and aided by the Holy Spirit. The questions are: What relationship does each of these teachings have to the other? And, why are these things so?

These three teachings about Jesus are crucial for both the Christian and the Muslim. Moreover, they are interdependent teachings. One does not hold up without the other. This is something frequently overlooked by my Muslim friends.

So, let's start with the teaching that Jesus is faultless. Clearly to live a faultless human life is impossible for an ordinary man. The Hadith goes so far as to say that Satan touches in the womb every human except Jesus. That's loosely analagous to the Christian doctrine of original sin. But Jesus' birth is different. He is born supernaturally of a virgin. And not only is His birth different, so too is his life. He is able to live a faultless life because He is aided by the Spirit of God.

Now the Muslim has two problems here. He must explain how Jesus can be born of a virgin and not have God as His Father. Christians do not mean tht God has sex with a woman, as many Muslims mistakenly think. But we do understand from Jesus' own teaching in the Gospels that God the Father is His Father. Moreover, a Muslim must explain more carefully who the Holy Spirit of God is. We've seen that He can not be an angel. And if He is the Spirit of God, a Muslim must explain how He cannot be God, of God's essence. What emerges, even from the pages of the Qu'ran, though everywhere the Qu'ran explicitly denies it, is a Trinitarian view of God! God the Father commanded the birth of a sinless Son who is aided by His omnipotent Spirit.

Why is all of this necessary? Why must Jesus be sinless, aided by the Spirit, and virgin born? For the answer to that, we must turn our Muslim friends back to the Gospels, the revelation that the Qu'ran teaches was given to Jesus and that the Qu'ran teaches Muhammad affirmed.

In the Gospel, we observe these wonderfully profound truths:

"And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes on Him shall not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).

"Then those who were in the boat came and worshipped Him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God'" (Matthew 14:33).

"He (Jesus) said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Jesus answered and said to him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Fahter who is in heaven'" (Matthew 16:16-17).

"The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10).

"Then they all said, 'Are you then the Son of God?' So He (Jesus) said to them, 'You rightly say that I am'" (Luke 22:70).

"Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified and the third day rise again'" (Luke 24:7).

Jesus, the perfect Son of God, came to die for sinful men. He gave His life as a ransom for our own. He died the death that we deserved to satisfy the holy wrath of God on behalf of those who repent of their sins and turn toward God through faith in Jesus the Messiah. He is the virgin born, sinless, crucified and resurrected Son of God who provides the only way of salvation and escape from the wrath to come.

When witnessing to Muslims, be bold, know the gospel, defend the scripture, confront them with their own sins and penalty of sin, and then bring them to Jesus!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have found what evokes much thought in a Muslim's mind is, during a discussion of Jesus, I deny that Jesus was a good prophet. If the Muslim wants to say that Jesus was a good man, I will disagree and say that it is impossible for Jesus to be a good man. That piques their interest to want know why I would make such a statement that seemingly puts down the Jesus that I am proclaiming.

My answer is the one you quote in Luke 22:70 and others in the New Testament, where Jesus undeniably claims to be God or the Son of God. Which leads to the discussion of how we must consider whether Jesus is a liar (a liar purposefully does not tell the truth, so therefore a liar is not good), or Jesus is a lunatic (a lunatic thinks he tells the truth but he is mistaken, so the lunatic is wrong and therefore he is not good), or Jesus really is God (he tells the truth and he really is God). Therefore, either Jesus is wrong or Jesus is God. There is no other option. But to be "a good man" is not an alternative that Jesus leaves open for consideration.

Thabiti, thank you for your continuing presentation on witnessing to Muslim. Blessings to you, Steve