My letter to a Muslim friend

Thanks so much for your question. I will do my best to answer you as simply but in as much wisdom as I can, and not my words as much as what God has spoken.

I need to “back up” before telling you what Easter means to us. The story of Easter begins long before Jesus walked on the Earth.

It starts back with Abraham, when he left Haran to go to a land God, the One God, the Creator of all the Universe, called him to. In the first book of our Bible, which is also the first book of the Torah for Jews, God came to Abraham: the LORD came to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them,m he hurried from the entrance to the tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.” Genesis 18:1-2 God promised Abraham he and his wife Sarai (Sarah) would have a son the next year, the child they name Isaac. That was the beginning of two lines of people who would come from Abraham through Isaac and Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Sarah’s servant Hagar. The children and generations who came through Isaac became the Hebrews, the Jews.

Isaac’s son Jacob had twelve sons, and from them came the twelve tribes of Israel (the new name God gave Jacob). Down through hundreds and hundreds of years, God spoke through people like the shepherd boy David (who became probably the greatest king of Israel) and through prophets that God would send a King, a Redeemer, to Israel.

“Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of Glory may come in. Who is the King of Glory? the LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.” Psalm 24: 7-8 (written by King David)

“Never the less, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled Zebulun and Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee by the way of the sea, along the Jordan. The people waiting in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the shadow of death a light has dawned….For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders, and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on forever.” Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7 (Isaiah was one of Israel’s greatest prophets).

The problem was that the Jews thought God was sending an earthly king who would defeat their political enemies. But God always had something much deeper and more powerful and difficult to do on his heart: he intended to defeat the sin, the ungodliness, the selfishness and insecurity and fears that live inside all of us and cause the problems we have with each other, wars and killing and slavery and repressive governments, cheating and lying, greed, and creates a huge wall between us and God. God is totally holy, and we by our own choices are NOT holy, but sinful.

We all sin. Not one of us is purely holy, as God is holy. This truth is in both the Torah and the prophets of the Jews, what we Christians call in our Bible the Old Testament, and repeated in writings at the time of Jesus and after his death and resurrection by his followers in what we call the New Testament. (So one difference between Jews and Christians is that we have and believe both their holy writings and the sacred writings about Jesus and the 60 years or so after his crucifixion and resurrection.)

What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles (anyone who is not a Jew) alike are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written: there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Roman 9: 10-11

Above all,God loves us his children and wants to be in a loving relationship with us. You can understand that in the way you feel about your daughter! Is there anything you wouldn’t do or give to keep her safe, healthy,protected, and happy, and to see she experiences the best life she can? Would you ever stop being her loving father, even when she makes terrible mistakes? No! You will always love her as a father and want to be in a good, close relationship with her.

That’s exactly what God wanted, too, and wants with all of us. He gave laws to the Jews, but those laws only showed how none of us can keep them. Laws were meant to point out our weaknesses and lead us to God to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. And that is precisely who Jesus was and what he came to do. For some reason the Jews overlooked other promises about their Redeemer (Messiah) in their own Torah and prophets:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering,. Like one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised ….Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity (sin) of us all. Isaiah 53: 2-6

The sacred books of the Jews told them that their Messiah would come as a suffering servant and the sacrifice that made all other animal sacrifices for sin completely unnecessary. But we all would rather see a conquering king smashing our enemies, not a LORd who comes to pay the price for our foolishness and selfishness. That kind of king requires that we admit our own guilt – maybe the hardest thing for any person to do. God is SO amazingly both holy, just (He can’t look upon sin) AND loving that he did the only thing he could do to save us from our sin: he paid the price himself! Jesus was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” H_____, what kind of love sacrifices like that?

The promised King came first as the sacrificial lamb. God poured himself into a cell in the body of a young Jewish girl named Miriam (Mary). God did NOT have sexual relations with Miriam. Why would God the Creator need to do that to create a body, when he created all of us, Miriam included, out of nothing but himself? When the angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus (actually Yeshua in Hebrew, which means “God saves.”) Mary was frightened, and she answered, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. so the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1: 30-35 (Luke was a doctor who traveled with some of the disciples, though he was not one of the original 12 men Jesus called to follow him.)

Jesus taught in parables, or stories, and he called himself the Good Shepherd. In his own words, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” John 10:11 (John was one of Jesus’ closes friends as well as a disciple of Jesus, and his writings show the deepest intimacy of Jesus) Jesus was in the Temple at the time of the Feast of Dedication. some Jewish teachers of the law gathered around him there and asked him,”If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. .. I know my sheep and my shneep know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen (meaning people who are not Jewish) . I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd… I and the Father are one.” John 10:14-16, 30

Jesus very pointedly said that he was truly the Son of God, and as Paul said, “The fullness of God in bodily form.” Jesus again told some religious leaders who were questioning by whose authority Jesus did the miracles he did (including giving eyes to the blind, healing lepers and healing the crippled so they could walk, and raising people from death) , “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am.” John 8:58 “I Am” is that name God told Moses when Moses asked God for his name so he could tell the Israelites in the desert who was speaking to him. Jesus said he was equal and one with the Father. John wrote about Jesus, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…All things were made by him.” Jesus is the Living Word.

This is a long way to get to your question, but we Christians come out of the Jewish roots of our faith. Jesus was a Jew. He was their promised Messiah, but most of them even in his time couldn’t wrap their understanding around God, the Messiah, coming as a servant and a sacrifice for their sins. To Christians, and to Messianic Jews who do recognize that Jesus Yeshua is the promised King and Savior, Easter is the most holy day we celebrate, because it is the time – during Passover when lambs were traditionally sacrificed and Jews celebrated the Seder meal to remember their deliverance from slavery in Egypt – that Yeshua became the sacrificial lamb who took on himself the penalty and punishment for all of our sins, ALL of our sins forever.

We say that our sins are washed away by the “Blood of the Lamb,” and now God sees us through the righteousness of Yeshua. He rose from the dead three days later, just as prophecies from over 400 years before he was born promised, and just as Yeshua said he would rise again. Early in his ministry he went into the temple and saw merchants and money changers defrauding people who came to buy animals for sacrifices. Jesus Yeshua took a whip and drove them out of the temple, saying they were making it a den of thieves. The religious leaders became angry and asked him on whose authority he thought he could do this in God’s house.

John 2:18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body.

For Christians, Easter is a joyful grateful celebration that, when we receive this free gift from God of cleansing from our sins through what Jesus did and restoration of relationship with God as his sons and daughters, we know we have that same eternal life with God in Heaven after we die.

“To as many as received him (Jesus), to them he gave the power to become children of God, even to those who believe on his name.”

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!..,. This is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 1 John 3:1, 15-16

We aren’t made right with God by our good works, because none of us can ever be totally free from bad works. But in accepting Jesus as our sacrifice, we walk into the amazing love God has for us. Out of that love, then, because we want to do what honors him and brings God happiness, we do all the good we can for others. Now I admit that over the centuries many people who call themselves Christian have acted in ways that dishonor God. People have done much evil in the world and tried to cover it with “this is for Jesus,” which must make God want to vomit. Jesus himself said that many people would say, “Lord, Lord,” who never really knew him.

What this means to me personally is this: the man I was married to and loved for 38 years who committed adultery many times and now says he wants to “honor God” by being faithful to another woman has ever truly known Jesus, and never really made him Lord on the “throne” of his own life and will. The world would say I should hate him, but if that man turned around today, confessed his wrong, and asked my forgiveness, I would take him back and give him all my love forever. That is what knowing the love Jesus has for me does in me. I was and am forgiven of so much; how can I not forgive others, even my betrayer? I pray for him every day and have cried a river of tears asking God’s Holy Spirit to make Jesus real and visible and audible to that man who has never known Jesus’ love. I pray, “God, restore in him the man you created him to be before his father’s mental illness and his mother’s coldness so wounded him. Make and recreate in him the man you meant him to be while he still has life left to praise you.”

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The two greatest commandments Jesus said, and the total of all the law and the prophets, are these two: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Easter, the horrible death of Jesus, and it was horrible to the extent that the whipping alone he took cut away the flesh from his back and exposed his bones and his internal organs. He was mocked, spit upon, a crown of thorns pushed on his head, and he was forced to carry the crossbeam of his cross on his bleeding shoulders to the place of his execution. There his wrists and feet were pierced with huge spikes and he was nailed to the cross, where his lungs filled with fluid, he suffocated and bled to death. That is how ugly and brutal sin is. We have to recognize how truly terrible and repulsive our sins are. Yeshua gave himself willingly out of love for us, so the penalty of sin – which is death and eternal separation from God – could be paid in full BY GOD HIMSELF so we could live with God forever as his children, loving, forgiving, caring, and blessing while we live on earth, and enjoying his presence in Heaven forever.

Real Christians don’t “blame the Jews” for Jesus’ death. We know our sins put him on the cross. Most Jews don’t recognize Yeshua yet as their promised Messiah, so Easter means nothing to them. To real Christians, it is the very reason we live, and we hope all people come to know this great love. We won’t force anyone to claim Jesus as their Savior, but we certainly hope everyone comes to know this miracle of love for them.

This is a very long answer, but I hope it makes sense to you, my dear friend. YOU are loved passionately by a holy and merciful, just and loving God who made you to know him and to be loved as his son forever.

With deep respect and much regard, my brother,