The Great Debate: the nature of Jesus

This post is a continuation from a previous post. For the whole story, read  On debating an imam.

 

Christianity is not about a religion, or a philosophy, or a worldview; it is about a person.

For centuries men have been beaten, persecuted, tortured, and killed, and it was not for the sake of a philosophy. These men and women did not stare death in the face, resting their hopes in an idea. No, the strength to stand in the fire came not from an idea, but hope that welled up because of a person. The sufferings of this faith were, and still are, for the sake of a name.

It is a name that is above every name, and that name is Jesus, the Christ.

For the Christian, Christ is our all, the Word wrapped in flesh. Jesus is the bread of life, he is the living water, and he is the good shepherd.

Jesus is the very Son of God.

And it is on those last three words that Islam must part ways with Christianity. In our discussion that day in the mosque, it was apparent that, despite the many similarities, Islam and Christianity could not be reconciled. As we talked, conversation always spiraled back to two points: the essence of Scripture and the nature of Jesus.

Truly, Islam holds Jesus in high regard. He is, arguably, the greatest prophet after Mohammed. The Koran speaks more of Jesus than any other prophet (even Mohammed), and it does so with admiration. He is said to be special and sent from God. In most Islamic traditions, he is held as sinless, and was conceived through a virgin birth. Furthermore, Jesus was a miracle worker. He performed great supernatural signs.

On all these points, Islam agrees with Christianity. In fact, it would be tempting to say we agree on the nature of Christ.

Sadly, it cannot be said.

Despite the great many particulars we share in our understanding of Jesus, it is precisely the most important that Islam will not accept. That Jesus is God’s son, and that he is our resurrected savior.

As he had done with the issue of Scripture, the imam steered the debate toward the nature of Christ. And in this act, the conversation centered on the very center of the Christian faith. Namely, that Jesus came to earth as the Son of God, died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and was raised according to the Scriptures.

To a Muslim, these words are near blasphemy. In their estimation, if God had a son, it could only come through sex with Mary. God could do no such thing (a point where Christianity agrees). Furthermore, if Jesus was all that Christians claim, if he was indeed fully God and fully man, then that defies the very nature of God.

“How can Jesus be God? Did he eat? Did he use the bathroom?” asked one of the men in the circle, aghast at the thought of God being lowered to these base human activities.

But that was not the end of the complaint. Even if Jesus was somehow divine, they asserted, there was no way he was crucified. This is a point made explicit in the Koran. According the Koran’s telling of that crucial day, God, in the last minute, spared Jesus from the cross by making someone else look like him. In Islam, the thought of Jesus, a sinless prophet, being crucified is inconceivable.

In that moment, the man’s response laid bare the scandal that is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For, that is exactly what happened. The very God of heaven, the Lord of Hosts, the one who spoke earth and sky and sea into existence humbled himself to the place of an ordinary man. He removed his robes of glory and replaced them with a robe of flesh. He did lower himself to the point of eating and using the bathroom. He lived, in all ways, as a man. For, he became a man.

Jesus was not forced. He was not tricked. He left his throne willingly, out of love for his Father, that he might make right all that we made wrong. And, while Christianity would never claim that God the Father had sex with Mary to create Jesus, we would say that the full essence of God, the Word, became flesh in that moment.

Finally, he came so that he could die.

In Islam, man claws his way back to God by his deeds. For Christianity, that is a mere impossibility. Through one man, sin entered the world, and the curse spread its way across every person, every living thing, and every grain of sand. Humanity is incapable of good. It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that. Just look at the world, the wars, the famine, the oppression; it is messed up.

No man in history has lived a life worthy of a restored relationship with God, save one. And that one, Jesus Christ, gave his perfect life as a sacrifice so that we may be reconciled to God. For this end, the Christ had to die, and was raised, the firstfruits of a whole new creation.

The gospel is scandalous indeed.

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