Reclaiming martyrdom

Libyan martyrs
courtesy of the Catholic Exchange

It’s inevitable that the meanings of words evolve according to how society uses them – what’s interesting is what this says about society’s preoccupations. The sexual revolution changed the definition of ‘gay’;  our cynical postmodern weariness is changing the meaning of ‘virtue’, and so on. So it is with ‘martyr’. What is a martyr these days? A passive-agressive completer of menial tasks or a religious fanatic, bent on paradise, happy to blow themselves up and their enemies with them.

This is a fair enough definition – of Islamic ‘martyrdom’. Islam teaches believers to slay and be slain, that jihad – fighting in Allah’s cause -is the greatest of deeds, and that dying this way is so good you’ll want to come back to life just to do it all over again:

Qur’an 9:111—Surely Allah has bought of the believers their persons and their property for this, that they shall have the garden; they fight in Allah’s way, so they slay and are slain.

Sahih al-Bukhari 2785—Narrated Abu Hurairah: A man came to Allah’s Messenger and said, “Guide me to such a deed as equals Jihad (in reward).” He replied, “I do not find such a deed.”

Sahih al-Bukhari 2797—Narrated Abu Hurairah: The Prophet said, . . . “By Him in Whose Hands my soul is! I would love to be martyred in Allah’s Cause and then come back to life and then get martyred, and then come back to life again and then get martyred and then come back to life again and then get martyred.”

But because of our society’s woeful religious illiteracy, most people think that’s how Christians who are serious about their faith end up too: fanatics who slaughter people in the name of God. Twisted? Yes. But how did we end up in this situation? Why has the concept of Christian martyrdom been so successfully erased from public consciousness? Maybe because in the West, apart from some notable exceptions we don’t want to die for Christ anymore. We want full churches (who cares if they don’t teach the Bible), paid clergy in jobs for life, inclusive communities, uplifting meetings and guitar-led worship. What would Ridley and Latimer make of it all? Most of us – Biblically conservative Christians included – daren’t pipe up on social media in defence of Biblical truth, let alone go to the stake for it.

Then you hear stories from other parts of the world that bring us to our knees in  awe of the power of Christ in people’s lives and weeping in repentance for our own lukewarm love for our Saviour. Here is one, courtesy of Barnabas Fund from a couple of days ago:

“Pastor Stephen was asleep at home with his wife and two daughters in Darfur, Sudan, when six masked Islamists burst in, during the early hours of 2 March. They asked why he had continued to preach about Jesus, after they had warned him several times to stop. Stephen had a powerful evangelistic ministry and the day before had led 56 Muslims to Christ. Stephen‘s answer to the Islamists was simply to tell them about the Lord. The attackers tied up the family and chopped off their limbs until they died. Stephen, the last to die, sang “Hallelujah Hosanna” throughout it all. At their funeral, the powerful preaching caused another 214 people to give their lives to Christ. Praise God for the faithfulness of Stephen and his family and pray for all who have become Christians because of him, that they may glorify God by their lives and – if need be – their deaths.”

Martyrdom in Christianity is about laying down your life for the sake of Christ. It has nothing to do with ‘slaying others.’ You don’t do it for a better reward, but as a gift to the One who has given us more than we can ever possibly give Him back. Because of Pastor Stephen and his family’s faithfulness to the end, hundreds of people will now live eternally with Jesus.So let’s stop calling Islamic martyrdom ‘martyrdom,’ when it is a parody of martyrdom. Let’s call it what it is – jihad-inspired violence and terror.

One day, if we’re in Christ, we’ll meet Pastor Stephen face-to-face – and Latimer and Ridley and Cranmer and Stephen and the Apostle Paul and countless other brave Christian martyrs. What will we talk about? What we learnt at our last women’s conference? Whether Matt Redman was right to re-work “It is well with my soul?” Whether we were Calvinists or Armenians?

We pray for our Christian family in these countries, of course. But we pray too – God change us. Shake us out of our timidity and complacency with tears of repentance. May we never read these accounts, shrug our shoulders and carry on as before. And who knows what the consequence might be of a church that said- and meant – “to live is Christ, to die is gain?” (Phillipians 1:21)

Hugh Latimer was onto something with his (alleged) last words before going up in flames:  “Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” Are we worthy torch-bearers of this flame today? Or are we slowly extinguishing it one compromise at a time?

Son of God conceived through sex?

Was the Son of God conceived through sex?

Hatun challenges Muslims’ false belief that the Bible teaches Jesus was conceived through sexual relations. But the Qur’an does teach something like that…

And [We have propounded yet another parable of God-consciousness in the story of] Mary, the daughter of Imran, [24] who guarded her chastity, whereupon We breathed of Our spirit into that [which was in her womb], [25] and who accepted the truth of her Sustainer’s words – and [thus,] of His revelations [26] – and was one of the truly devout. – Sura 66:12

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Why Muslims are not in the Garden of Eden

Why Muslims are not in the Garden of Eden.

There is no original sin in Islam – but in that case, how come Muslims are no longer in the Garden of Eden? And why is the doctrine of original sin hinted at in Islamic sources?

‘If God were to punish men for their wrong-doing, He would not leave upon the earth a single beast; but he gives them respite until a stated time; and when their time comes they cannot put it off an hour, nor can they bring it on.’ (Sura 16:61, Sura 35:45)

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.” www.sunnah.com/bukhari/59/95.

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Why did God become a man?

Image courtesy of VeronicaRomms

In our previous article we showed how  Allah takes on human form when his Ruh [Spirit] visits Mary “in the form of a man in all respects” (Sura 19:17, Hilali Khan). So if Muslims want to use the objection that a God who takes on human form cannot be God, they need to realise it applies to Allah as well. Even if they they concede that God could become a man, the next question is often – why would he need to?

Right from the beginning in Genesis, it’s clear God has a special affection for human beings. He makes men and women uniquely in His image (Genesis 1:27) and walks and talks with Adam and Eve in perfect relationship (Genesis 3:8). Instead of asking why God became man, ask rather – why ever would God make human beings like God, capable of personally relating with him? Why does He invest us with such dignity and honour? (The Qur’an never says we’re made in God’s image – this is an  important point.)

Disaster strikes when Adam and Eve think they can live independently of their Maker (Genesis 3:6), so God’s image in them becomes tainted. Worse still, as a result of their disobedience, sin and death enter the world. As their descendants  we are all tainted image-bearers, born in sin and subject to death: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And just as Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden, so we too are excluded from His presence . Sin is catastrophic: it is so much more serious than the Islamic understanding of sin as just mistakes and weakness- it is a deadly disease no human wisdom can cure. Don’t miss the strong language of Scripture: in our natural state we are “dead in transgressions and sins”  (Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13) and  “objects of wrath” Ephesians 2:3. We are cut off from God and powerless to change our natural state.

And crucially, sin is unique to humanity. A lion doesn’t sin when it eats an antelope. A lion’s taste for antelope may be a consequence of man’s sin, but it was man who fell, not the lion. So it’s man, not the lion, who is deserving of punishment. And yet, God in his extraordinary mercy, decides that it’s men and women, his image-bearers, who in spite of our depravity and rebellion, that He considers pre-eminently worthy of redemption.

How did God redeem his people in the Old Testament? Through the blood of a lamb. At the Passover, the Israelites were commanded to smear the tops and sides of their doors with a lamb’s blood to spare them from the destroying angel. “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment” (Exodus 6:6) Forgiveness through blood continued via the  sacrificial system under Mosaic law. But none of these sacrifices could provide perfect redemption. Hebrews 10:1-4

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

Why was it never going to be enough for a human to be redeemed by an animal? In Genesis 3:15, God hints that the redeemer would be an offspring of the woman – a human – and male. To Satan he says:

And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

But it is no ordinary human male; it’s a  male who can crush the head of Satan, something only God can do. A God-Man. To re-iterate: the Bible anticipates a God-Man, not a God-Lion or a God-Beetle -because it is mankind who needs redemption, so a like-for-like sacrifice is required.  Note how carefully this is explained in Hebrews 2:11-18

Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.[a] 12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
    in the assembly I will sing your praises.”[b]

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”[c]

And again he says,

“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”[d]

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fearof death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like them,[e] fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18″

Now let’s turn back to the Qur’an. But why did Allah visit Mary “in the form of a man in all respects”? Why is it only birth of Jesus – not Muhammad – that warrants a visit from Allah in person? The well-explained (Sura 12:111), clear and detailed Qur’an (16:89) doesn’t tell us.

The Bible doesn’t leave us hanging: it teaches that Jesus needed to be fully human, as well as fully God, to be the perfect sacrifice to redeem mankind. He does this because he loves us so much, He would rather die in our place than let us carry on “dead in our sins.” And not only that, but through Jesus’ redeeming work, not just human beings, but one day the whole of creation will be made new:

“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[a] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:20-21

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)

Freedom, forgiveness, redemption, peace; adopted as sons and daughters and ushers of the new creation.  John is spot-on when he writes “see what great love the Father has lavished on us!” – and at what cost. Muslims repent and believe in Jesus, our “righteousness, holiness and redemption” (I Cor 1:30) and stop worshipping a confusing and unknowable counterfeit.

Next time: Is Jesus the Messiah of the Old Testament?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does Paul teach the Divinity of Christ?

Does Paul teach the Divinity of Christ?

Lizzie and Hashim discuss whether Paul teaches the divinity of Christ? Hashim thinks ‘no’ based on these verses in Timothy: Lizzie calls him out for cherry-picking Scripture.

In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:13-16.)

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Objection 2: How can God become a man?

Image of Jesus with halo

“How can the Creator of everything become a man? How can he limit himself?  It’s just not logical. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Note the phrasing of the objection – “how can God do x?”- puts the questioner above God by implying there are things He shouldn’t be able to do. But why limit God?  Isn’t a better question “why shouldn’t God be able do x?” Someone might respond with a conundrum like  “is God able to create a stone too heavy for Him to lift?” where either answer puts you in a hole. (If yes, God is not all-powerful because he cannot lift the stone: if no, God is not the perfect creator because there is something he can’t create.) But don’t fall down that hole because it’s a conundrum that applies to Allah just as much as it applies to the God of the Bible.  If you’re going to raise objections against the Christian God on the basis of logic, then you have to be consistent and admit that Allah doesn’t conform to human logic either.

And the appeal to logic is disingenuous because Muslims’ highest authority isn’t logic, it’s revelation. They have to believe that Jesus was no more than a human creature not because it’s logical, but because the Qur’an says so. That same Qur’an also claims to confirm the previous Scripture (Sura  2:136, 2:4, 2:41, 3:2-3,  4:136, 5:46-48) which plainly teaches that Jesus is God in the flesh:

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage” (Phillipians 2:6)

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9)

This puts Muslims in a dilemma – to accept that Jesus is God in the flesh in contradiction to the rest of Qur’anic teaching or  accept the Qur’an’s teaching that Jesus is not God in the flesh and reject the teaching of the previous Scripture, which is to risk Allah’s wrath:

O you who have believed, believe in Allah and His Messenger and the Book that He sent down upon His Messenger and the Scripture which He sent down before. And whoever disbelieves in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day has certainly gone far astray.” Sura 4:136

(Most Muslims will pick the third way and claim the Bible has been corrupted, which the Qur’an doesn’t say: it was a theory first put forward by 11th century scholar Ibn Hazam.)

Then there is the issue that having a son is actually impossible for Allah:

He is the Originator of the heavens and the earth. How can he have children when he has no wife?” (Sura 6:101 Hilali Khan)

Wait – Allah is constrained by his singleness? Even single human beings can have babies if they put their mind to it. Are single human beings more powerful than Allah? It is very odd thing for Allah to say because he shows he is perfectly capable of creating a child when Maryam conceives Isa by his spirit (Sura 66:12). But according to Allah, creating a child is not how you confer sonship; rather sons are something you ‘take’. Sura 39:4:

Had Allah wished to take to Himself a son, He could have chosen whom He pleased out of those whom He doth create:but Glory be to Him! (He is above such things.) He is Allah, the One, the Irresistible. (Sura 39:4 Yusuf Ali)

Given he claims the previous scriptures as his own, it seems Allah has forgotten that divine Sonship has nothing to do with either fathering or adopting a human creature. According to the Bible, God the Father doesn’t ‘take’ a son, in the sense of fathering or adopting a child. Jesus is not a creation of God; he exists eternally as the Son of God and has done so both before and after his incarnation.  But Allah sees sonship in purely human terms, and he is above such things:

“It is not [befitting] for Allah to take a son; exalted is He!” (Sura 19:35, Salih International)

While fatherhood might be beneath him, it nonetheless ‘befits’ Allah to come to earth disguised in a burning bush. Sura 27:7-8 re-tells the story of Moses:

Behold! Moses said to his family: “I perceive a fire; soon will I bring you from there some information, or I will bring you a burning brand to light our fuel, that ye may warn yourselves. But when he came to the (fire), a voice was heard: “Blessed are those in the fire and those around: and glory to Allah, the Lord of the worlds.”O Moses! verily, I am Allah, the exalted in might, the wise!..”

So it’s logical to believe Allah can be constrained by a burning bush, but not within a human body? But Allah can be constrained by a human body, as we read in Sura 19:17 when the spirit of Allah visits Mary:

She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then We sent to her our Ruh [spirit] and he appeared before her in the form of a man in all respects.”

So even in Islam, Allah’s spirit becomes a man and is subjected to limitations. This isn’t logical, even by the Qur’an’s own ‘logic.’ How can a monad be constrained? Who is running the universe while Allah is in the bush or talking to Mary? Coming to earth and taking on flesh is not a problem for the Trinitarian God of the Bible – in fact it was predicted He would do so throughout the Old Testament. But why did He?  We will look at this in our next article.

With thanks to Sam Shamoun and David Wood.