She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)
There will be no Christmas celebrations in Mosul this year. For the first time in 1,600 years, the church bells will remain silent in Iraq’s second largest city. You see, in June, ISIS seized Mosul, and the Christians fled for their lives. Those who stayed have either been killed or enslaved, or perhaps they remain incognito. But there will be no Christmas in Mosul.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things. (Luke 1:51-52)
Aren’t you glad we have a Savior? Aren’t you glad we are invited to drink deeply of what the Apostle Paul calls the abundance of grace (Romans 5:17)? And aren’t you glad that what God gives, you cannot lose?
By the time you read this, Thanksgiving is past and the Christmas season is upon us. I love both holidays and cherish them more as I grow older—and how much more this year as we watch and groan in the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Bamako (Mali), Beirut, and Baghdad. As I write, the city of Brussels is virtually closed; all airports, public transit, soccer games, stores, and the capital building itself have been shut down because of the threat of another Paris-like attack. Only the thin veneer of civilization remains.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God… of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Aren’t you glad you know where this story is going? Aren’t you glad you have a Savior? Aren’t you thankful for your blessed assurance? Aren’t you thankful for the promise of Christmas?
Seven terrorists died during the attacks on Paris on the night of November 13th. Did you know that six of those terrorists took their own lives? Only one was shot by the police. Why—and how? How is the Islamic State (IS or ISIS) able to recruit thousands of Muslims from around the world? Why would men and women leave behind their lives in major cities and move to Syria to join this militant strain of Islam? Surely there are a number of reasons, and who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? (1 Corinthians 2:11). First and foremost, however, in the radical Islamic mind must be the absence of Christmas, the absence of assurance.
In Christmas, in the Messiah, we receive the promise of eternal life. The Christ promises life, not death. He gives life abundantly, graciously, freely to all who ask. Jesus also gives us assurance of life. Of eternal life that no one can take away (John 10:28).
In Islam, though, there are no guarantees of heaven. The Western mind is baffled at the prospect of voluntary martyrdom, but from within the worldview of Islam, dying for your religion makes sense. You see, Muslims follow the teaching of the Quran. They believe there is one God, Allah, to whom we must submit. Muslims also believe there is a coming day of judgment, a day that will be fierce and ferocious. The Quran’s descriptions of the punishments to be inflicted on those who end up in hell are terrifyingly macabre. One passage foretells that persons in hell will have their skin burned off… only to be given new skin so that it might be burned off again. And again. Shockingly, adherents of Islam have no assurance that they will not go to that place and have their own skin burned off (Surah 4:56). In fact, the only way to be assured of spending eternity in paradise is to be martyred for Allah.
The coming day of judgment is sometimes called the Day of Doom. It is a day to dread because on that day everyone—including Muslims, including Muhammad himself—will find out his eternal destiny. God’s will, Islam teaches, is arbitrary. He will accept who he will accept and reject who he will reject, and we won’t find out until that day of judgment. Ultimately, in Islam, Allah is unknowable and his ways are impossible to predict.
Aren’t you glad we have a Savior? Aren’t you thankful for Christmas? Aren’t you thankful for our blessed assurance?
The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
Immanuel, “God with us.” I am thankful for Christmas. I praise God because his will is that none should perish. I thank him for the inestimable gift of his Son, the incalculable greatness of his grace, the immeasurable blessing of his assurance.
My eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel. (Luke 2:31-32)
Aren’t you thankful for Christmas? Do you marvel that you will worship the Christ for eternity with those who have fled Mosul, with the Christian martyrs who have lost their lives, with those who have experienced untold suffering and loss at the hands of ISIS?
This Christmas should we not pray with the angels…
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! (Luke 2:14)
Aren’t you glad we have a Savior?