Simply Share the Gospel
Christians and Muslims believe in one God. But notice: the law of Moses doesn’t just focus on God’s oneness, it also mentions his saving power. This is how the 1st commandment reads, “I am the LORD your God who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me.” God’s oneness is anchored in the great rescue from Egypt – a story known and loved by children. This commandment simply means: God saved the Israelites so he alone is worthy to be worshiped.
The Scripture instructs us to “unfold” these core truths of God’s Word which can easily be illustrated in the lives of the prophets. In this way, unbelievers will be “enlightened” and the “simple will gain understanding.” (Psalm 119:130) Interestingly, many of these rescue stories, which form the backbone of the Bible, are known and loved by Muslims – albeit in a distorted and superficial way.
Simple Stories Appeal to Children
A good place to start exploring the rescue theme is the story of three young men who refused to bow to a 90 foot idol which the King of Babylon had made. On many occasions I have asked Muslim friends, “Have you heard the story of Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego?” They hadn’t but they were curious ... so we read the story and they thoroughly enjoyed it.
Recently, I was in Moe’s home, watching a soccer match on TV with his four sons. As their bedtime was approaching I asked, “Do you boys want to hear a story?” They agreed, so I got out my Bible and turned to Daniel chapter 3. Their attention was riveted as the tension mounted. We read how Nebuchadnezzar gave Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego one more chance, warning them sternly that if they disobeyed him they’d be thrown into the fiery furnace. He concluded, “then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”
To everyone’s astonishment, they were saved. The King – who earlier defied Yahweh – now praised the God of Shadrack, acknowledging, “There is no other god who can rescue like this!” Deeply impressed by this story, Moe’s family have agreed to read other Bible stories on future visits. Can you imagine the stimulating discussions we will have in the next few weeks as we read stories about God rescuing Moses, Jonah, etc? (the Qur'an only gives glimpses of these stories)
Ponder how a Muslim feels when he reads Jethro’s response to Moses. Jethro heard his son-in-law tell about the amazing rescue at the Red Sea and then he said, “I know now that the LORD is greater than all other gods.” Notice how Jethro’s statement implies that God’s saving power has worldwide relevance. Compare other verses which say that all the world shall acknowledge that God is Savior. (Exodus 9:16; 2 Kings 19:11-19; Isaiah 45:21-23)
Reading the stories of Shadrack and Moses we see a close link between God’s oneness and his saving power. Interestingly, Moses’ story has been popularized as an animation-style movie ‘Prince of Egypt’ dubbed into 17 languages.
But notice, God’s intervention and deliverance involves more than a military victory, it also involves being ransomed by sacrificing a lamb. In fact, it is this sacrifice that marks the real turning point of this story: Israelite families celebrated Passover in order to commemorate this great escape. We read in Exodus 12:26, “Then your children will ask, ‘What does this ceremony mean?’” This question opens a natural door to explain redemption in simple terms.
Perhaps you’ve felt perplexed or daunted by the prospect of witnessing to Muslims. I trust you are beginning to see that it really isn’t so difficult. You can sow seeds by reading O.T. stories.
We’ve glimpsed how children and stories go hand in glove. This also implies the message is simple enough for a child to understand. Now let us reinforce this by looking at another prophet whom the Lord raised up about five hundred years after Moses. Asaph wrote Psalm 78 to remind the Israelites how the LORD had wonderfully rescued their forefathers from slavery in Egypt.
In the introduction to this Psalm one notices that the word ‘children’ (and its synonym ‘next generation’) are mentioned six times, “O my people listen to my instructions. Open your ears to what I am saying, for I will speak to you in a parable. I will teach you hidden lessons from our past – stories we have heard and known, stories our ancestors handed down to us. We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the LORD about his power and his mighty wonders. For he issued his laws to Jacob; he gave his instructions to Israel. He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, so the next generation would know them – even the children not yet born – and they in turn will teach their own children. So each generation should set its hope anew on God ...”
The psalmist not only recalls Israel’s past, he looks with hope to the future. He expresses confidence that the LORD’s sanctuary, Mount Zion, is “solid and enduring”. Hundreds of years later, the Messiah came as prophesied in scripture. Through him came the true light, fulfilling man’s longing for immortality. Jesus rose from the dead on Mt Zion – again, in accordance with prophesy. (Isaiah 25:7-9) This momentous event signified he overpowered death, as he himself said, “I hold the keys of death and the grave.” (Revelation 1:18; cf. 2 Timothy 1:10)
Children featured in Christ’s life – in various ways
It was this same Jesus who “always used stories and illustrations ... when speaking to the crowds.” Scripture tells us that Christ’s parabolic teaching “fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet.” (Matthew 13:34-35; NB his story-style teaching points back specifically to Psalm 78:2.) As one would expect, there were children among the crowds who listened to Jesus. On the occasion of the feeding of the 5,000 we see a boy making available his five loaves and two fish to be used by Jesus. (John 6:1-15)
Most Christians are familiar with the incident where parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. His disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. Then we read that “Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them. For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.’” (Luke 18:16,17)
Jesus had another encounter with children as recorded in Matthew 21:15-16, “the teachers of religious law saw these wonderful miracles and heard even the children in the Temple shouting, ‘Praise God for the Son of David.’ But the leaders were indignant. They asked Jesus, ‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ ‘Yes,’ Jesus replied. ‘Haven’t you ever read the Scriptures? For they say, “You have taught children and infants to give you praise.”’”
Reading how children praised the Lord reminds me of Farhad’s encounter with a 3 or 4 year old child. This child of a Christian neighbour came up the stairs singing, “Hallelujah.” Though Farhad didn't understand what Hallelujah means – ‘Praise the Lord’ – his curiosity was stimulated. His wife noticed a small paper in the child’s hand and asked, “What is this?” A simple conversation followed ... She kept the pamphlet and later read it more carefully.
Farhad explained how this simple witness was a turning point in his family’s journey to Jesus. It is interesting to see how Christ’s rebuke of the Jewish leaders correlates with this story.
A slightly longer version of this story recounts how this Muslim family – who were observant Muslims – became acquainted and friendly with their Christian neighbour. Eventually they accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Interestingly, this story didn’t happen in the west where Muslims are a minority. It happened in a nation where 99% of the population is Muslim. Any follower of Jesus in this country who dares to witness does so under the shadow of persecution. Sharing one’s faith requires boldness. How different this situation is compared to Christians living in the west, who are typically so timid.
In spite of this repressive climate, the amazing thing was how God used the spontaneity of a boy. In actual fact, Farhad’s neighbour had not instructed their child to do what he did. He spontaneously expressed what was in his heart. Notice, the Lord used the child’s praise to evoke the spiritual thirst of the unsaved neighbour! So often, we are prone, as adults, to underestimate the power of a child’s testimony and their fearless spontaneity.
I have noticed several incidents where this same dynamic has happened. I know of several situations where children made friendships with Muslim class mates. Through that connection the Christian parents became acquainted and friendly with Muslim parents. These stories illustrate, once again, how God uses the uninhibited behaviour of the children to prompt adults to engage with each other.
It is interesting to see how untainted children are by adult prejudices and fears. Not only so, as I’ve pondered these relationships I have realized it is not uncommon for children to unashamedly talk about God and spiritual things. Children can show us how not to behave – how not to be politically correct and how not to be intimidated when talking about spiritual things!
Through the Eyes of a Child
Earlier we read about five loaves and two fish that belonged to a child and how he was willing to share them for a greater cause – feeding a crowd of 5,000!
When telling this story we often focus on how a small meal was miraculously multiplied but let’s view this story through the child’s eyes. Notice the situation posed a challenge to the boy. We shouldn’t underestimate the child’s unselfishness and trust as shown by his willingness to give up his lunch.
I am reminded of a story in the O.T of another ‘child’. David, the youngest of eight sons, was asked by his father to take a food parcel to his brothers who were serving in the Israelite army encamped at the valley of Elah. We know the story very well – how he accomplished an incredible feat by killing Goliath. But we often overlook how little David appeared in their eyes. There is an ironic twist to this story which hinges on the word ‘child’.
David spontaneously responds to Goliath’s mockery of his beloved God, saying, “Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God?” Then David went to the King and told him, “Don’t worry about this Philistine. I’ll go fight him.” The King responds to David dismissively, “Don’t be ridiculous! There’s no way you can fight this Philistine and possibly win! You’re only a boy, and he’s been a man of war since his youth.” (1 Samuel 17:32-33)
The fact is: God often uses insignificant, weak and foolish things to accomplish his great purposes. Bearing this in mind, let us resist the temptation to underestimate simple children’s stories, especially when we are speaking to Muslims who we feel are notoriously hard to reach. We know Muslims are prone to ask difficult questions. So we make the excuse, “I’m not qualified to witness to Muslims.”
Luke 10 tells how Jesus sent out 72 disciples as his witnesses. Hearing their reports, “Jesus was filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, and said, ‘O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way.’” (Luke 10:21)
God’s non-professional, ordinary co-workers
If Acts 1:8 launches the worldwide proclamation of the gospel, then Acts 8:1 marks a critical juncture where the witnesses of Jesus moved outside their ‘comfort zone’ of Jerusalem. A great persecution thrust them into the wider arena of witness, namely, Judea and Samaria. Notice, however, that all twelve apostles stayed in Jerusalem. It was the ordinary folk – ‘non-experts’ – who fled into the surrounding areas of Judea and Samaria. Another fact we shouldn’t overlook is that the inhabitants of Samaria followed a religious cult called Samaritanism. These people were constantly debating with their Jewish cousins over religious issues and thus were regarded as a very difficult to impact with the biblical message.
Can you see the parallel between this first century scenario and the polarized situation that prevails today between Christians and Muslims?
These ‘ordinary’ disciples (who undoubtedly felt inadequate to engage with resistant Samaritans) were scattered into the province of Samaria. It is significant to note that they spread the gospel and made a remarkable impact. (See the article Reluctant Messengers available here.)
I recommend reading the story of Gideon who felt deeply inadequate in the face of a daunting challenge. May his example embolden us to share the Gospel with Muslims. (Judges 6-7)
Sharing the gospel with Muslims need not be complicated; indeed, it is actually quite simple. But does this mean it will be easy? In order to step out of our comfort zone and share the truth, we must be moved with compassion. Also, we need to be bold. As it is written, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
Being a witness for Christ is simple, however, we can – and should – learn how to be more effective. A good explanation of how to engage Muslims in conversational witness using key commonalities is a five page article entitled, Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?
Two websites which complement the foundational insights contained in this article can be found here and here. Another site that provides examples of how God has opened wonderful doors through telling simple Bible stories can be viewed here and here.
All biblical quotes are taken from the New Living Translation unless otherwise noted.
If you have any questions or comments please contact me.