By Stephen Green. (First Published in Christian Voice December 2007)
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Now it may well be that Christmas, the festival of the Incarnation of God as man, was a pagan midwinter solstice festival reinvented as a Christian feast as Christianity spread across
. It may well be that our gracious Lord was not actually born in December and that another time of year may be more appropriate for remembering how God 'tabernacled' (John
) with us. It may also be that the commercialisation of Christmas has resulted in a solemn Christian feast becoming profaned into an orgy of drunkenness and excess.
All that may be true, but we still need somehow to remember that before redeeming us in His Crucifixion and Resurrection, God became man in Jesus Christ. John Betjeman, for all his faults, asks this profound question in the conclusion to his poem 'Christmas':
“And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?”
ISLAM VERSUS THE BIBLE Last month, I put together a document for the Christian Voice website called 'Islam Versus the Bible'. I simply quoted the Koran and the Holy Bible on various subjects, showing that the two do not agree and suggesting that a different spirit was behind each. Among the subjects tackled were Gabriel's curse on Zachariah: the Bible says he was dumb for nine months, the Koran says three days; the identity of the son Abraham was about to sacrifice: at Eid‑ul‑Adha, Muslims celebrate their erroneous belief that it was Ishmael, the Bible says Isaac; and so on.
One well-known disparity revolves around the Lord's Crucifixion, the central belief of the Christian Faith. The Apostle Paul determined to know nothing in
except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. Each of the Gospels carries an account of this, the defining moment in our Lord's life. Matthew's Gospel, for example, says:
Mat 27:35 And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. (KJV throughout)
The Koran, on the other hand, denies the Crucifixion completely:
Sura 4:157 they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, ... for of a surety they killed him not:‑ (Yusuf Ali's translation throughout).
NO MUSLIM KNOWS HE IS SAVED The result of denying our Lord's saving grace is to keep Muslims swimming around in their sins. Except of course through martyrdom, they never know they are certainly saved:
Sura 5:40 Knowest thou not that to Allah (alone) belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth? He punisheth whom He pleaseth, and He forgiveth whom He pleaseth: and Allah hath power over all things.
So irrespective of what a man has done, or in whom he has believed, Allah reserves the right to punish him. That is the stark reality of Allah's treatment of humankind. But the Bible says we can know we are saved, through Christ's death and resurrection: Rom 10:9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
A Muslim can keep trying to do good works to counteract his evil ones, but he may be wasting his time, as all is on the whim of Allah:
Sura 9:102 Others (there are who) have acknowledged their wrong‑doings: they have mixed an act that was good with another that was evil. Perhaps Allah will turn unto them (in Mercy) ...
It is impossible for Muslims to claim that Islam is in the spirit of Christianity and Judaism, and the Koran a continuation of the Old and New Testaments, when we read in those latter two books such confident words of grace and what the KJV describes as 'lovingkindness' as this:
Psa 103:12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
Eph 2:7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
Eph 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Eph 2:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
KORAN DENOUNCES THE INCARNATION I said above that Christ's redeeming work is the central doctrine of Christianity; indeed, the way some churches carry on, you might think it was the only one. But it is incomplete, as I keep saying, without His glorious Ascension, and impossible without His incarnation. (And there are churches which concentrate too much on the latter, as well.)
Now, the Koran does not seem to mention Christ's Ascension, not even to spurn it. I won't speculate why. But it certainly denounces the idea of His incarnation as God-made-man, the only-begotten Son of the eternal Father. In verse after satanically-inspired verse Mohammed denies that Jesus is the son of Allah. He is certainly right there, but he is also claiming that Allah is God and denying any divine origin of the Lord Jesus. Therefore I conclude that Satan (for 'Allah' must be he) is exceptionally threatened by the fact that God became man and walked this earth. In other words, the God-nature of Jesus, His identity as the Son of God, must be really, really important in spiritual terms. Islam insists Jesus was just a man like Adam:
The similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: "Be". And he was.
In blasphemy indeed are those that say that Allah is Christ the son of Mary. Say: "Who then hath the least power against Allah, if His will were to destroy Christ the son of Mary?
Sura 5:75 Christ the son of Mary was no more than a messenger;
But the Bible says of Jesus, as the incarnate Word:
Joh 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
ONLY BEGOTTEN OF THE FATHER As for our belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Allah loses his temper completely:
Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; Allah's curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!
(the book called 'Mary') It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son.
Sura 23:91 No son did Allah beget ...
So Allah's (or Satan's) curse is on Christians for believing that Jesus Christ is the son of God? Tough. I am not belittling Satan, but I am washed clean and redeemed in the blood of Jesus Christ, and Satan has nothing on me. I'll fear God, fear sin, and then fear nothing, not even 'Allah's' curse. Much of the Koran is bluster in any case. Above, we had Satan (or Allah) claiming that he could 'destroy Christ the son of Mary'. Dream on. Incidentally, Mohammed, or Allah, seems to think 'Christ' is some form of surname. He appears not to know it means 'Messiah' or 'anointed by God'. Anointed, indeed, as Prophet, Priest and King, offices which no mere man can hold together. Even the unclean spirits in Luke 4:41 recognised the link between Jesus being Messiah and being the Son of God. So the Koran mistakenly acknowledges the divine connection of the Lord while simultaneously denouncing it.
But what does the Bible say of Jesus and His relationship to Almighty God? Every Gospel has an account of the Lord's baptism by his cousin John and every one records that at that moment He was recognised as the Son of God. Luke puts it like this:
Luk 3:22 And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, 'Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.'
In the Gospels, Satan himself acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God (so he knows!) as do unclean spirits including the demons of Gergesenes, Nathaniel (as well as calling Him 'King of Israel'), the man born blind, the disciples in the ship, God the Father at the Transfiguration, Peter at Caesarea Phillipi, Martha, the centurion at His Crucifixion and John the Evangelist.
JOHN'S GOSPEL IS EXPLICIT It is in the Gospel of John where the identity of Jesus as the beloved only-begotten Son of God is the most explicit. Anyone following the Christian Voice 'Lamplight' Bible-reading plan will have spent all of last month reading through this faith-building literary and theological masterpiece of Holy Ghost inspiration. And while reading John's Gospel, no-one could fail to miss the Gospel's and indeed the Lord's constant references to Himself as the Son of the eternal Father. The word 'Father' applied to God appears, unless I am mistaken, 122 times in no fewer than 102 verses in the Gospel of John. Thirty-seven of those verses are in the Lord's Passover discourse from John 14 to 16, with one key verse being 'Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me' (John 14:11).
There are so many references, it is something of an injustice to single out any in particular, but some of the more categorical are:
'The Father loveth the Son and hath given all things into his hand.' (John 3:35)
Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:18)
'For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.' (John 5:22)
'I and my Father are one.' (John 10:30)
Jesus saith unto him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.' (John 14:6)
'He that hath seen me hath seen the Father;' (John 14:9)
'I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.' (John 16:28)
'That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.' (John 17:21)
KORAN MIXES ARIANISM AND GNOSTICISM So John records time and again what Satan (or Allah) denies, that God has come in the flesh in the form of Yeshua Meshiach. It was the Gnostics who attacked the humanity of Jesus and the Arians His divinity. For the Gnostics, only the spiritual was of any worth; matter, including ourselves, was intrinsically and irredeemably evil. It followed that God could not have lowered Himself to become a man. Jesus to them therefore had only appeared to be a man. John specifically denies the latter view in saying 'the word became flesh' and clearly had the Gnostics in his sights, whereas the Koran tends towards Arianism in saying the Jesus was a mere man. However, by stressing that it is beneath Allah's dignity to become part of the creation he claims to have made, the Koran has Gnostic overtones as well.
ALLAH DOES NOT DO HUMILITY But why is it that Allah is apoplectic with the idea that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? Why can he not stand the idea of God becoming man, in the form of 'a Baby in an ox's stall'? Why is the idea that 'The Maker of the stars and sea' has 'Become a Child on earth for me' such a problem for him?
I think perhaps the humility of God in becoming a human baby is one thing that Allah (or Satan) hates. 'But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men' (Phil 2:7). And not just hates, but I have an idea he doesn't quite understand it either. Allah does not do humility. He despises such a virtue. The Koran also makes it abundantly clear that it is simply beneath Allah's dignity to have fellowship with human beings. There is no sense in Islam of Allah enjoying the company of mankind as God did in the garden of Eden, walking with Adam in the cool of the day, and being so keen to find a way for Adam and Eve to be reconciled to Him that He made them coats of skins, symbolic of Christ's sacrifice, when they had fallen.
In that view, Christ's sacrifice on
is born of God's wish for fellowship with us, as much as from His loving desire for us to be redeemed to Him for our own good, and for our share in His eternal Kingdom. And we know that in heaven we have complete and unimpaired fellowship with God through the blood of Jesus Christ. In contrast, Allah is nowhere to be seen in the Islamic 'paradise'. All that is there are pleasures of the flesh. Allah would not speak face to face with the likes of us, let alone actually become one of us.
ALLAH DOES NOT DO LOVE, EITHER John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Going back to God's love for us displayed on the Cross, and concentrating on that rather than on the fellowship aspect, we see another problem Allah has with the Incarnation. It displays the love of God in a spectacular way. Before Jesus Christ could die on the Cross, he had to become one of us, and the Bible says that was done out of love for us. And Allah does not do love any more than he does humility. Satan hates mankind.
He hates us, I should like to suggest, firstly because we are made in the image of God. When he looks at us, he sees the image of God and it reminds him of where he once was. Secondly, perhaps he hates us because we can be redeemed by God to live with God as sons and daughters in the heaven from which he was ejected. The idea of us people, so much lower than his angelic majesty, being allowed in to the heaven he cannot now enter because of the work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, must fill him with incandescent rage. Thirdly, I guess he hates us because he hates God. Fourthly, I think he hates us because he hates the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who caught him unawares and defeated him on the Cross. Fifthly, I suppose, he just hates us.
So the Koran is telling the truth in this at least: No son has Allah begotten, for 'It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son.' But Almighty God, the maker and ruler of the stars and sea, did beget a Son, who was born of a young Jewish woman in a stable in
just over 2,000 years ago. It was befitting the majesty of God to become one of us, and in that way give Himself to us, because of His humility and His love towards us, that we should not perish, but have everlasting life through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
THE SOCIAL AND PROPHETIC GOSPEL It could also be that Allah detests the Incarnation because it inspires Christians to care for the poor and needy and to become involved in society, seeing it not as evil, which was and is the Gnostic heresy, but in a way redeemable, able to have something done about it. And by doing that, a child is saved from a life on the streets, the homeless are housed, the naked clothed or the sick healed. In that simple work, we do the work of Christ and bring comfort and transformation, turning evil into good. The Incarnation shows God getting His hands dirty. Islam denies the Incarnation and it is no surprise that Islam is not big on social action.
Maybe it is because Jesus was and is the Son of God that Christians also care about our world and our fellow man enough to be speaking prophetically into the corporate national sins behind such evils. That is what the 18th and 19th century evangelical reformers did. It was not enough to deal with the after-effects of child prostitution, for example, they had to stop such a national scandal at source. But if God had never troubled to become involved in an intimate way in our human condition, why would they have bothered? Because God first sacrificially loved us, therefore they sacrificially loved others. Islam is not big on prophetic witness, either. One lot of losers from the Christian-led abolition of the slave trade were the Muslim slave-traders.
CELEBRATE There must be so much more I haven't yet seen in Allah's denunciation of Jesus as Immanuel, God-with-us, but I offer these thoughts in the meantime. God's active intervention in the affairs of the world by being born into it has a massive spiritual significance. It really challenges the forces of evil in a way we struggle to grasp. And if it is such an affront to the realm of Satan, then on the basis that we should always do what the enemy least wants us to do, let us celebrate Christmas for all we are worth. But for its own sake, and to keep in the forefront of our minds that God knows us, and cares for us, and heals us, and suffers with us, and redeems us and loves us, this festival needs keeping. So let us do that, celebrating and living the incarnate only-begotten Son of God, the living Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas!