Friday, June 18, 2010

A Message For Muslims: The Miraculous Food From Heaven

God has given us a beautiful universe, amazing in its vastness: the great heavenly bodies hanging on nothing, the tiny parts of each atom of life, the color, the variety, the rhythm and motion of everything. Even with such wonders and beauty all around them, people still find it hard to trust in God. They seek miracles as proof of God’s presence with his messengers and the truth of their messages.

According to the Qur’an, Jesus’ disciples asked him if God could send them a special sign. They requested a table spread with delicious foods as one would find at a banquet. Instead of granting their request, Jesus warned them, “Fear God, if you have faith.”

The disciples persisted in their request. They insisted, “We want to eat from that Heavenly table until our hearts are satisfied. Then we will know you have really told us the truth. We want to be witnesses of this miracle.”

Jesus then spoke to God. “O God, our Lord, send us this table from heaven set with choice foods that will be a festival for us and a Sign for thee. Provide our sustenance for you are the one who sustains us.”

God answered that he would send that table down but warned that if the disciples still resisted believing after that, he would punish them with a penalty that would be harsher than any other people had received.

Thus we learn that the disciples’ faith was not complete. They put an undue emphasis on physical food, and they had a childish desire for miracles or signs. You can read this story in Sura 5:112-115.

Since the Bible is my authority in matters of faith and truth about God, let me share with you a story of a miraculous dinner that Jesus gave.

“Late in the afternoon the Twelve [disciples] came to him and said, ‘Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” He replied, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They answered, ‘We have only five loaves of bread and two fish - unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.’ (About five thousand men were there.) But he said to the disciples, ‘Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.’ The disciples did so and everybody sat down. Taking the five loaves and two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve baskets full of broken pieces that were left over.” (Luke 9:12-17)

The people were astonished. Some decided that he must be made their king, but Jesus sent them away, and ordered the disciples to leave also, while he went up into the mountains to pray. Later, the same people begged him for food again.

“What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” (John 6:30-31)

Jesus’ reply startled the people and many of his followers left him because of these words:

“I am the bread of Life…I am the bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:35a, 41b, 54)

In this way Jesus discouraged the people from seeking miraculous physical food. At the same time he offered spiritual food to those who would believe.

All Christians regularly celebrate the ceremony called the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion. Spiritual truth is experienced and rejoiced in while the participants eat small pieces of bread and drink small cups of wine or grape juice.

Are you tempted to seek miraculous signs instead of trusting God? Consider that Jesus Himself is the bread the Heavenly Father sent down. Consider these words of the prophet Isaiah:

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” (Isaiah 55:1-3a)

(The above information is from "Jesus Gives Peace: Jesus In The Qur'an and the Bible," written by Yusuf Abdallah) and from the book by the same title and author, pp. 29-31.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Jesus Interprets the Law: A Message for Muslims

Wise people heed their consciences and learn from their own experiences, and from these, they seek to interpret good rules for their lives. Even wiser are those who consider the experiences, ideas and teachings of others as well. But the wisest people of all are those who obey the words of God’s prophets. According to Islam, Jesus is one of God’s prophets. And His rules for life are true for everyone.

The Qur’an teaches that certain things that were forbidden before would now be permitted. Jesus would settle the arguments people had about certain behavior. To prove his teaching was from God, Jesus performed many miracles. They were signs that his message was true. Jesus urged people to fear and worship God and to obey Jesus’ teachings. (Sura 3:49b-51; 43:63-64)

The Bible, which is my authority in matters of faith, agrees that Jesus confirmed God’s law. Jesus said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)

The Bible agrees that Jesus permitted things that were once forbidden. Religious people often consider certain foods clean and lawful to eat, but they believe other foods are unclean and unlawful to eat. Jesus relaxed such laws. Jesus said:

"Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.")" (Mark 7:18b-19)

Religious people often have very exact laws about fasting. When people complained that Jesus’ disciples ate during the times when people were supposed to fast, Jesus answered:

"How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast." (Mark 2:19-20)

In this way Jesus suspended the laws about fasting for those who were with Him.

Religious people often celebrate special holy days. The Jewish people called the last day of each week their Sabbath. It was a holy day and no one was to work on the Sabbath. When Jesus healed people on the Sabbath, they accused Him of breaking God’s law by working. Once Jesus healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath.

"Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, "There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath." The Lord answered him, "You hypocrites! Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?" (Luke 13:14-16)

Thus Jesus declared that it is right to do good to others on the Sabbath.

In many religions, certain places are considered sacred. Several times every year, Jewish people were required to offer sacrifices and worship at the temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritan people, who only accepted the first five books of the Bible as God’s Word, believed they should worship God on the mountain where Moses worshipped instead of going to the temple.

Once, a Samaritan woman challenged Jesus about which place was the correct one to go to for worship. Jesus solved this argument between Samaritans and Jews by saying:

"…true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:23b-24)

In other words, true worship is not done because you are in a temple or on a mountain. True worship is spiritual without pretense and can be done anywhere.

Jesus confirmed God’s laws, but freed people from the rules of clean and unclean foods. He freed people from rules about fasting and rules about holy days and holy places. He taught that true worship is not obedience to outward customs and ceremonies at specific places. True worship is spiritual. It comes from the heart.

(Most of the above information is from "Jesus Gives Peace: Jesus In The Qur'an and the Bible," written by Yusuf Abdallah)