Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Impossible Breakthrough

Roland Clarke

As we enter 2024 I want to encourage you to keep looking to Jesus because with him the impossible becomes possible. Mary discovered this when the angel appeared and told her she would give birth to a son even though she was a virgin. The angel Gabriel said, “For with God nothing will be impossible.” Then again at the end of Christ's earthly life the impossible became possible as Jesus rose victorious from the grave and conquered death. Neither of these two miracles has ever happened before or since, yet God is still performing the impossible today.

Recently we showed a movie called Breakthrough to a group of mostly Yezidi young people at a Christmas pizza party. You might have seen the movie back in 2019. It is based on the true story of a 14 year old boy who fell through the ice and sank to the bottom of a lake before the rescuers finally pulled his body out some 15 minutes later. Doctors tried resuscitating him but after 55 minutes without a heartbeat, they gave up hope. The situation seemed utterly impossible. So, it's not surprising that the book on which the movie is based, depicting this astonishing story is titled, Impossible.

After the party was over I took two siblings home and their parents invited me to come in for a cup of tea. Sitting down on the couch I noticed right beside me an open laptop with the words, Break through, appearing dead centre in bold font! I wondered, “Did their father know the movie title we had just watched? Perhaps he was purposely reading reviews about the movie so he could intelligently discuss the film with his kids?” However, he admitted that this was not the case. He didn't even know what movie they had been watching! He was simply working on improving his English 'phrasal expressions'! Then I looked closer and noticed the phrase 'break through' was defined: “to overcome an obstacle or difficulty.” Clearly this fit perfectly with the movie plot highlighting the extreme measures undertaken to overcome the awful problem of death by resuscitating and hopefully 'bringing John Smith back to life'.

There's an interesting back story as to why we decided to show this particular movie to these young people. A couple of us youth workers had seen the movie Breakthrough years ago. We felt that it could positively impact these youth in spite of the fact that they had shown very little spiritual interest. Indeed, over the last couple years several of them repeatedly refused to hear anything about the Bible or Jesus. In preparation for showing the movie our team earnestly prayed for a spiritual breakthrough and we weren't disappointed. We won't stop seeking to engage the youth in meaningful conversations based on the movie, whether visiting in their homes or during the Saturday sports outreach.

I decided to share this riveting story with a number of non-Christian friends (including half a dozen Muslims) and was encouraged to see them respond positively. In fact, most of them have told me that they're planning to see the movie online. One Muslim friend, R___, watched the movie this week and excitedly exclaimed “it is really amazing.” We plan to meet soon to reflect on what impressions the movie made....

Here are some observations based on the movie combined with biblical insights. I pray that God will use these simple steps to explain how “Jesus Christ our Saviour broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life.” (2 Tim. 1:10)

1) I personally was deeply touched seeing the mother's tearful plea to God when she was finally permitted some private time with her son's 'lifeless' body. Note: he was her only child. Her tears reminded me of another heart-wrenching story in the Bible involving a grief stricken mother who had just lost her only son. Jesus said to her, “Don't weep” and then, “filled with compassion,” he raised her son back to life. (Luke 7:11ff)

2) Speaking of tears, I well remember my own experience of weeping inconsolably when I lost my father to cancer at the tender age of eight. Over the years I've experienced the consolation of God as he wiped away my tears. All of this calls to mind a coming day when the “Lord will wipe away all tears” having destroyed death forever. (Isaiah 25:7-9; Revelation 21:3-4) Interestingly, Scripture contains profound statements about tears and rescuing people from the very jaws of death; for example, the psalmist takes comfort in knowing that God counts his tears. (Psalm 56:8) King David praises the sovereign Lord from whom comes “escape from death.” (Psalm 68:19-20) In the midst of deep grief Martha, the sister of Lazarus, confidently affirms that Jesus is God's Messiah, agreeing with Christ's declaration, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:26-27; cf. 2 Tim. 1:10; Revelation 1:17-18)

3) The movie, Breakthrough, concludes by raising a thought provoking question. Soon after John's astonishing recovery, he returns to school and his teacher tells him the sad story involving her husband who a year earlier had died from a severe illness. She explains how John's miracle made her feel perplexed, “Couldn't God have intervened and answered her prayers?” This question is quite understandable! The answer lies in acknowledging God's sovereignty as illustrated by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. We read in Daniel 3:16-18 how they refused to be intimidated by King Nebuchadnezzar's threats, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if He doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (bold font added for emphasis) Moreover, Jesus reassured Martha at the graveside of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.” (John 11:25-26, bold added for emphasis*) What an amazing miracle: to see Lazarus raised from the grave! Notice that he received back his earthly life and he did eventually die like every other ordinary mortal. However, God's promise is true: He will one day clothe Lazarus (and all who believe in Jesus) with an immortal body that is imperishable. As it is written,

What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

'Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:50-57)

In conclusion, the various kinds of scenarios for engaging people in heart-warming, if thought provoking, conversations prompted by the movie Breakthrough are almost endless. May God's Spirit inspire and show each of us how to effectively point people to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour – the one who uniquely overpowered death rising triumphantly from the grave and promising to give eternal life to anyone who truly repents and believes in him.

All Bible quotes are taken from the New Living Translation unless otherwise indicated.

If you wish to share any experiences (or questions) stimulated by watching the movie or reading this article I would love to hear from you. Please write me here.


Footnote

* ...will never ever die! What on earth does this mean? D.A. Carson provides a helpful explanation in his commentary (p. 413, The Gospel According to John), “If the last half of John 11:25 stipulates that the believer, even though he or she dies, will nevertheless come to life at the resurrection, the first half of verse 26 stipulates that the believer, the one who already enjoys resurrection life this side of death, will in some sense never die. That is a recurring theme in this Gospel. In anticipation of Jesus' resurrection and the pouring out of the Spirit, there is the repeated promise that those who believe in him will immediately possess eternal life' (8:51; cf. 3:15,16; 5:24). Ordinary mortal life ebbs away; the life that Jesus gives never ends. It is in that sense that whoever lives and believes in Jesus will never die.”


Endnotes

Scripture declares that Christ's resurrection demonstrates/proves that he is truly the Son of God. (Romans 1:4) A short summary of these proofs is available in an article titled, 'Is the resurrection of Jesus Christ true?' This subject is the crux and heart of the Biblical message of salvation. So it is not surprising that it has sparked countless discussions as well as debates over the last 1400 years especially between Muslims and Christians. A few of the books and video materials which explore various aspects of this issue are listed here:

The Crucifixion of Christ: A Fact not Fiction, by John Gilchrist

The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary R. Habermas and Mike Licona, 2004, Kregel Publications.

Defending Jesus' Resurrection against Islamic Revision of Christian History by David Herbert, 2020, Joshua Press, H&E Publishing, Peterborough, Canada.

The Islam Debate, by Josh MacDowell and John Gilchrist, 1983, includes the script of a debate on 'The Resurrection of Jesus' between Josh MacDowell and Ahmed Deedat (pgs. 143-178)

Lee Strobel: Understanding the Resurrection of Jesus | Kirk Cameron on TBN


Two thought provoking points to ponder

Earlier we alluded to the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave, however, the entire story is worth reading carefully as recorded in John 11. One point to ponder revolves around Christ's deep concern to bring glory to God. We read at the beginning that Jesus delayed responding to Martha's plea for Jesus to come quickly as Lazarus was very ill. Christ explained the reason why he purposely delayed going, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” (John 11:4) This raises a question: “What if Jesus had promptly gone to visit his sick friend Lazarus? Would God have been glorified?” No doubt Jesus would have healed Lazarus and God would have been glorified. But on the other hand, consider the greater honor and praise which was given to God through Lazarus being dramatically raised to life after four days in the tomb! Now let us apply a similar principle to the events in the movie: Do you suppose God would have received as much praise and honor, if John Smith had been revived/resuscitated after a shorter period without a heart beat? (e.g. 25 minutes instead of 55 minutes)

Here is another question to ponder: John 11:35 says that Jesus wept. Why then did he also feel a “deep anger welling up within him” upon seeing the people around him mourning over Lazarus death? (John 11:33,38) I've written a number of articles that provide a careful answer to this excellent question, e.g. Is death the end? This essay explores timeless truth encrypted in wise sayings of Solomon as found in Ecclesiastes 3:1,2,11; “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die … God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, yet even so people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”