The Biggest Challenge You Will Ever Face
For many Muslims Ramadan is a time of intense beauty. It is filled with sweet memories of times spent together with family members, of the loving labors of mothers who sacrifice their time in the kitchen for many hours to provide special food in abundance for the night hours. It brings with it a religious intensity and commitment that is heightened by sacrificing one’s own comfort and convenience through fasting. And it is a time of enhanced solidarity with other members of the Muslim community. To some it may not even feel like a sacrifice.
Understanding the idea of human beings giving up something in order to obey our Creator’s will and to please Him with our lives comes naturally for us. It makes sense to our minds that somehow our self-sacrifice would make us closer to God. The Almighty is high above us, and we feel we must stretch up to meet His requirements by whatever means He has commanded.
It is not so easy to grasp the idea that God would sacrifice anything for us. In fact, for all of us this is a major challenge, the biggest challenge any of us will ever face in our lives. How could it make any sense at all that the direction of filling the huge gap between us and God would be downward instead of upward? And could God really care enough about us to demonstrate His love for us through His own self-sacrifice? If He did, how would that play out in history, in our world, in any kind of tangible way?
The answer survives partly in the ancient writings of a prophet who lived about 2,700 years ago, who himself suffered greatly because of his obedience in preaching the message entrusted to him. The Prophet Isaiah recorded a clear description of a sacrifice that would be made almost seven centuries after he wrote it down, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Tawrat, prophecy of Isaiah 53:4-6)
A few verses later we read these words, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (53:11-12)
It is hard for us to imagine that the will of the Lord would include “crushing” His own righteous one, His own servant. The purpose of this servant being made an offering for guilt is so that He would bear the iniquities, the sins of all who trust in Him. The direction of grace, God showing us His love even though we don’t deserve it, is always downward, not upward. The clear description of the crucifixion in Isaiah chapter 53 identifies the suffering servant with Jesus the Messiah, the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. In this suffering of Jesus we can see God’s own self-sacrifice for us, in a mighty act that actually accounts people righteous.
Centuries after the Prophet Isaiah another of God’s servants, Paul of Tarsus, would pen the words, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” This is simply a logical conclusion. If God really forgives our sins on the basis of His own grace, then the opposite is not true: that we can somehow contribute to our being made righteous in His sight.
What I request Muslims reading this to seriously think about is what it means to receive God’s grace, given through the sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah as described in the Prophet Isaiah’s prophecy. The Bible is claiming that we can know beyond a doubt that our sins have been forgiven and that our Creator and Lord has accepted us. Why? It is because our acceptance with God is not based on our own goodness or performance, something we can never really be sure about. It is based on an absolutely sinless, perfect sacrifice provided for us by God Himself.
Please think long and hard about this. As you fast during Ramadan, and as you do so many other really wonderful things that involve family, friends, community, commitment, love, kindness, and hospitality, I ask you from my heart to imagine what it would be like to have in the midst of all these good things the knowledge that God has forgiven and accepted you.
*If you would like to participate in a personal Bible study about this subject and similar ones, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or text 313.485.7153.