The Gospel is a matter of life and death. The phrase seems cliché, even to a “religious” person. We believe it to be true, but the present reality of it may seem to be an abstraction. A non-religious person might understand the statement metaphorically and allegorically, but would subscribe little or no “weight” to it. Neither sense, however, captures the utter significance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it played out in the lives of people I want to introduce.
In the first story of a Muslim man who hated Christians and Jews, and in the second story of a Jewish woman who hated Muslims, the utter significance of the Gospel is brought home in a way that abstract ideas and allegorical concepts simply cannot accomplish. The Gospel is Living Water in a wasteland of hatred and death.
The first story of a Sudanese Muslim who hated everyone who was not Muslim will make your skin crawl as he describes a brutal, unprovoked attack by him and others against a Christian classmate that left the man broken, bleeding, and dying. He was unashamed and proud of what he had “done for Allah”.
An encounter with two Coptic Christians whose prayer healed his cousin as his cousin lay on his own deathbed opened his eyes to a new reality. When those Christians told him, “The real miracle is that God wants to change your heart,” the paradigms by which he had always viewed the world shifted forever.
The decision he made to embrace Yeshua cost him his family and life as he knew it. He became dead to them. They even performed a ceremonial funeral for him. The life that he formally knew was over, but the new Life he received was riches in comparison.
You will want to watch and listen to him tell his story in his own words, not just to describe this journey, but to listen to him tell the rest of the story about the man he left for dead. The power of the Gospel is so much more than a matter of mere metaphorical importance.
The second story comes from a Jewish woman who lived in a world in which Arabs “were the enemy”. She grew up in the midst of the complex political struggle in the Middle where all around her was war and death.
From her earliest memories, her world was unsafe. She was terrified of Arab people who lived in villages surrounding the settlement in which she grew up. The Arabic language was a reminder to her, when she heard it, of shooting, rocks flying and people dying. She learned to hate Arabs.
The Rabbis painted a picture of the God of the Bible as “a very cold and distant God, almost robot-like, a type of God that wouldn’t think twice before he would strike you down with a lightning bolt if you dared to tear a little piece of toilet paper on Saturday, which is forbidden in Judaism”. What she saw of God in the Bible, though, when she read it for herself, seemed different to her.
She grew up in a world of hatred and fear. When she was introduced to the God of love and hope, her world changed completely. She no longer hates or fears Arab people. She learned that the Lord of life is the God of Arabs and Jews alike.
These stories of people who grew up in environments that fostered hate against each others’ “tribes” show how the Gospel changes people so dramatically that those who once hated now love. Paul’s words are true of Jesus:
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility….” (Eph. 2:13-14)