Thursday, August 17, 2006

When Witnessing to Muslims... Get to Jesus (2)

In our last post, we spent some time thinking about the Person of Jesus and its centrality in witnessing to Muslims. We reviewed some of the Qu'ranic teaching about Jesus' birth, the Holy Spirit in His mission and ministry, and his sinless perfection. And we concluded basically that the Qu'ran concedes too much without also concluding as the Bible does that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and God the Son.

Today, we're looking at another aspect of the Qu'ranic teaching about Jesus and its importance in proclaiming the Gospel to Muslims: Jesus' death.

Nearly every Muslim I've had the privilege of sharing the gospel with denies that Jesus was crucified. Often, the denial is accompanied with the explanation that such a death is not worthy of one of Allah's messengers/prophets. And from time to time, some will claim that it wasn't actually Jesus that died but someone (perhaps Judas) that was made to look like Jesus at the crucifixion. And still others, like Muslim apologist Ahmed Deedat, maintain that Jesus was put on the cross but did not actually die on the cross but came down and continued to live. The traditional Islamic understanding is that Jesus was "raised up" to Allah and will return at the judgment to condemn those who taught false things about him and worshipped him.

Several passages in the Qu'ran speak to Jesus' death. Most of them deny his death. But a couple are useful for our purposes here.

In Sura 19:33, while still in the cradle Jesus is depicted as saying of himself, "Blessed am I in the day of my birth, my day of death and my day of resurrection to life."

Sura 5 relays an instance where Allah is supposed to have asked Jesus what he taught during his earthly mission. It reads:
Allah said, "Jesus, son of Mary, did you every say to people, 'Adopt me and my mother as two gods in disregard of God Himself?'" To which he replied, "Glory be to you. It is not in me to say what I have no warrant for. If I had ever said such a thing You would have known it. For You know my innermost being and I do not know Yours. I said to them only what you commanded me to say, namely, 'Worshp and serve God, my Lord and your Lord.' As long as I was among them I bore witness to them and when you took me to Yourself it was You who were watcher over them. For you are a witness to all things" (5:116-117).

The phrase "you took me to Yourself" isthe Arabic word tawaffa, which literally means to receive back, to take back, or to collect as in a debt. It is the most common verb in Arabic to express the idea or action of causing someone's death and is used throughout the Qu'ran of Allah (for example, 2:258; 3:156). It's a euphemism of sorts, not too unlike someone saying that a person "passed away" or "went home."

Another text is Sura 3:54-55:
And [the Jews] plotted and planned, and God too planned, and the best of planners is God. Then Allah said: "Jesus, I am causing you to die and I will exalt you to Myself, vindicating you from the unbelievers over whom your followers will have the victory at My hands and then, at the resurrection, is the homecomong of you all. I will be the arbiter of all your disputes."

The last text we want to consider is Sura 4:157-159:
They claim, "We killed the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, the Apostle of God." But they killed him not, nor did they crucify him. They were under the illusion that they had. Those who differ about this matter are full of doubts. They have no real knowledge but follow only conjecture. Assuredly, they did not kill him. On the contrary, God raised him to himself, and God is all powerful, all-wise. And there are none of the People of the Book who will not believe in him before his death. On the Day of Resurrection he [Jesus] will be a witness against them.

In these four passages, it's possible to affirm a number of things.
  1. Jesus himself said he would die ("my day of death" in 19:33).
  2. Jesus affirms that his death would be "blessed," so in whatever way he died we cannot conclude that it was "unworthy" of God's prophets. Note that in 19:15 the same blessing is pronounced on John the baptist who was beheaded, and yet his death is blessed.
  3. The Qu'ran itself teaches that Jesus actually died, not just that he was "raised up." Sura 5:117 uses the euphemism "You took me to yourself" and Sura 3:55 distinguishes between death and being raised up -- "I am causing you to die" and "I will exalt you to Myself." Any theory of Jesus' death can not confuse these two things.
  4. The Qu'ran flatly contradicts itself. Jesus plainly claims that he would die. And in Sura 3 Allah says he is "causing Jesus to die." But in the next chapter says "they killed him not, nor did they crucify him" and "they did not kill him... God raised him to himself."
  5. Not only does the Qu'ran contradict itself on this point, it also contradicts all the revelations before it that it claims to affirm! From Genesis 3:15 to the Messianic Psalms to all four Gospel narratives which give a disproportionate amount of space to the crucifixion events, all of biblical revelation points to the historical fact and necessity of Jesus' death on the cross.

When witnessing to Muslims, hold before them the certainty of Jesus death on the cross. The Qu'ran contradicts itself, but the biblical witness (which the Qu'ran affirms!) gives sure evidence that the Son of God was crucified and raised again!

Let's ask our Muslim friends which position a reasonable man would take given the evidence:

Would a reasonable man take the eyewitness testimony of people who knew Jesus and stood by the cross... or the contradictory claims of writers 600 years after the event?

The eyewitness testimony:

Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." Having said this, He breathed His last.

So when the centurion saw what had appened, he glorified God, saying, "Certainly this was a righteous Man!"

And the whole crowd who came togehter to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned. but all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, wathcing these things. (Gospel of Luke 23:44-49)

And again:

Then he (Pilate) delivered Him to them to be crucified. Then they took Jesus and led Him away. And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center.

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" and bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.

And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. (Gospel of John 19:16-18, 25, 30, and 35).


Steven Dresen said...

I just wanted to encourage you in your ministry and thank you for this information. I came across you on one of my Covenant Life podcasts. Grace and Peace be with you in the name of Christ.

FellowElder said...

Thanks for teh great encouragement and for stopping by. I pray that the joy of the Lord would be your strength brother.