Tenth Letter

Dear Abdallah,

I thank God that your response to my last letter proved to me, against some inner fears, that you did indeed accept the validity of rational thinking in matters of faith, next to your devoted submission to God. I strongly believe it to be of necessity to stand firmly on both legs in this world of lies and deception. An illustration may help to show what I want to say.

Let one leg symbolize sober and rational thinking. We need to be open-minded, but at the same time ready to test every thought and information input (even our own!), ever keen to scrutinize whatever introduces itself as Truth. This is done by checking on the available documentation, references and, above all, evidence to support its claim to originate from a divine source.

Then let the other leg stand as a symbol of your wholehearted devotion to God with an undivided heart, which is our genuine form of worship, love and obedience towards him. That should not be done without the continual, sincere prayer to God to be guided aright, and for the enabling to distinguish truth from error.

Standing on one of these ‘legs’ alone, makes us highly vulnerable to fall over, be one-sided or unbalanced. One could easily become unteachable, simplistic and even a fanatic. To protect us from such, God has given us an intellect and the ability to scrutinize, compare and to draw conclusions. So let us first honestly investigate the matter of truth and then let us yield ourselves in obedience and worship to the only true God.

Up to now I have somehow expected you to stand on your objective ‘leg’. Can you still hold on a little? I would like you to consider with me the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Besides the for many Muslims controversial concept of the divinity of Jesus, which we looked at in the last letter, the cross is likely to be the most emotionally loaded topic in a conversation between Christians and Muslims. As I stated before, I like you to remember that everything I say is not done to hurt you or to win an argument! The importance of this topic and the possibility of a misunderstanding weighs heavy on me. Even so I suggest that we do not avoid ‘hot’ subjects, but that we tackle them in love.

We are both aware of the contradicting statements in our respective ‘Books’. The Qur’an clearly states:

... they (i.e. the Jews) killed him (i.e. Jesus) not, nor crucified him ... for a surety they killed him not. (Surah 4:157)

The context explains that this event only appeared to the contemporaries to have happened, but God took Jesus to himself. In contrast to that the crucifixion and death of Jesus takes by far the most prominent place in the Gospel, and can hardly be overlooked, even in the Old Testament teaching, where it appears in the form of the prophecies, which have been fulfilled in the life and death of Jesus.

It is obvious that both views cannot be true. Instead of entrenching ourselves and arguing against each other to defend our conviction, as it is often done, let us rather use our objective ‘leg’ again. So let us consider the supporting evidence to secure the right answer.

In an earlier letter I have already mentioned the evidences of fulfilled prophecy, acknowledged eyewitness reports, contemporary historical reports and the archaeological evidence. All speaks so convincingly in support of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. So how can all this evidence be contradicted or invalidated by just one allegation, stated 6oo years after the recorded event, and which supplies no evidence for this claim at all.

I am tempted to repeat our supporting evidence (as presented in my third letter), but will rely on your good memory. I am equally tempted to share with you the biblical teaching on the need for a sacrifice for the remission of sin, an essential part of and basis for obtaining forgiveness and with that reconciliation with God under the dispensation of the Old Testament. Every sacrifice pointed to the future when Jesus would come to replace the symbols with the sacrifice of Himself. The former offerings were just shadows of things to come, to use a biblical term.

John the Baptist, recognizing Jesus, pointed to him and said:

the Lamb of God,
who takes away the sin of the world!
(John 1:29)

While still alive, Jesus spoke to His disciples about Himself:

The Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the Law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles (non-Jews) to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life. (Matthew 20:18-19)

Then he said:

The Son of Man did not come
   to be served,
   but to serve,
and to give his life as a ransom for many.
(Matthew 20:28)

And that was the way it happened. Let me use an historical event, which can serve as a parable.

Shamuel was a Caucasian prince living a couple of hundred years ago. His people seemed to be involved in constant war with the Turks. Once he besieged a Turkish city with his army. As usual his mother accompanied him. One night he planned a surprise assault, but the enemy was lying in wait. His secret plans had been betrayed. The battle was lost. Distressed, Shamuel announced that the traitor, when caught, would be punished with 100 lashes of a whip. In great secrecy another attack was planned—but the result was the same. They had been betrayed again. But this time the traitor was caught. It was Shamuel’s mother.

In anguish he withdrew to his tent for three days and nights. What should he do? What would be the right thing to do? If he were to spare his mother, all could rightly claim justice to be governed by expediency. Were he to punish her, however, all would say: ‘Look at that merciless and cruel man! He does not even show pity for his own mother!’ At last he appeared. His men gathered around him curiously. Then he addressed them: ‘We lost two battles because of treason. We lost many a man as a result of this. I find no excuse for the traitor. The crime was committed, and so punishment shall be executed according to my law with 100 lashes! Righteousness and justice must be upheld!’

His mother was led into the circle. She was pale, trembling with fear. The executioner lifted his whip—but before the first lash came down on her, Shamuel cried: ‘Hang on! This is my mother; I am of her flesh and blood. I will take the punishment for her!’ He went into the circle, took off his garment and commanded: ‘Executioner, dare not strike more lightly than with the last prisoner. Do your duty!’ Lash after lash came down, until he broke down unconscious. Against expectation Shamuel did survive his ordeal. Will we ever know how his mother felt about what she had caused to her son? She must have been overcome by shame, wonder and love at her son’s behavior.

This event, perhaps more than any other in history, illustrates the way Jesus stepped in for us to take our place:

He himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree (cross) ... by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)

It was not only the physical pain, bad as it was, that caused the suffering of Jesus, the only ever sinless and pure person. It was that He took on Himself the ugly filth of our sin. One cannot help feeling as Shamuel’s mother must have felt.

God’s righteousness and love met at the cross of Jesus.

God was in Christ
reconciling the world unto Himself,
not imputing their trespasses unto them.
(2 Corinthians 5:19)

This happened once and for all. This sacrifice for sin is sufficient for all men at all times and therefore never needs to be repeated. It is God’s grace in action. It is God’s gift to us. A gift, however, becomes mine only when I stretch out my hand to accept it. Allow me to use another illustration:

A couple of hundred years ago a certain Austrian painter was commissioned to paint a picture of the crucifixion. He had composed the scene and had selected and painted all the models. Only one white space was still open on his canvas. It was kept for Mary Magdalene. She was a prostitute who had been forgiven by Jesus and had become one of his devoted followers. The painter just could not find the right model. Walking through Vienna one day, he was struck by the features of a Gipsy woman. That was his ‘missing person’! She agreed to sit for him as a model and he took her to the studio where the painting was waiting to be completed.

The woman looked contemplatively at the painting, and then said:

“That man on the cross must have been a horrible criminal to deserve such a punishment like this”.
replied the painter,
“On the contrary. He was a very good man indeed!”
“But why then did the people kill him?”
the Gipsy inquired. The painter explained:
“He actually died for the sins that we have committed”.
“For yours as well?”
the girl asked after a thoughtful silence.
replied the artist truthfully.
“Then you must love him very much indeed”,
concluded the ignorant Gipsy.

These words struck the painter at the very heart, for up to that point he had been a Christian by name only. He knew the stories about Jesus, but never personally accepted or applied the deeper meaning of this message to himself. At that moment the veil fell from his eyes. He recognized what Jesus had done for him personally, and was overcome by love for him. So this incident became the turning point of his life. The Bible calls such a happening conversion, which just means change, a change of heart.

You will need time to contemplate on this message with your mind—and to ponder over it in your heart. You know that your decision has eternal implications. The Bible urges us to make the right choice:

This day I call heaven and earth as witness against you
that I have set before you
   life and death,
   blessings and curses.
Now choose life.
(Deuteronomy 30:19)

The ultimate questions are: To whom do we entrust ourselves? To whose voice do we listen? Which is the witness to the Truth that God has provided for us? And is that witness really trustworthy?

I pray that you may you be blessed with the full realization of God and His plan and will for you, and may you have the determination to choose what is true and right!

Yours sincerely,