Take Another Look at Jesus

By: Peter Youngren
From: August 2009
Peter Youngren is not trying to convert people from one religion to another, but to bringing the good news about Jesus to people in ALL religions.

Jesus is a point of contact between Muslims and Christians.  The only ancient religious writings that give Jesus a supreme position are the Bible and Islam’s holy book, the Koran, which mentions Jesus ninety-seven times.  Entire chapters are dedicated to Him.  Though there are stark differences in how Christians and Muslims view Jesus, still without question He remains a person of common interest and a point of dialogue.

Let me be very clear where I stand. Jesus came for the world; no religion or culture owns Him.  He loves the world, died for all, and rose again to give new life to everyone.  His grace extends to all religions including Muslims and Christians alike.  Jesus is the Savior of all people.

One of the first comments I make to Muslim friends is, “I am not trying to convert you to Christianity.”  That does not mean that I view Christianity in a negative light, though just like any religion, Christianity has its share of problems.  It is just that no religion, no matter how well intentioned, has the power to make us righteous.  That ability is in Jesus alone.  For years I have endeavored to show Christians our need to receive new life through Jesus Christ.  How we respond to Jesus is a crucial matter for every person regardless of religion.  This is an area of complete equality; everyone, man or woman, Christian or Muslim, rich or poor, who believes and receives God’s love revealed in Jesus has eternal life.

My mission in life is to share this Good News of Jesus Christ. For thirty years I have enjoyed working with Christians of almost all denominations and in all parts of the world.  Our common denominators are our love for people and our faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Muhammad, the Koran and Christians

In addition to working with Christians, I gladly work with all people who promote peace and mutual understanding.  My travels have brought me into contact with many Muslims who are honest, hard-working and peace-loving individuals.  I have often received friendship and understanding from Muslims.  It has been my joy to extend a hand of friendship to people of other religions than my own, according to the example given by Jesus and the apostle Paul, who refused to discriminate against any individual or groups of people.  My friendship with Muslims has not caused me to compromise my belief in the Gospel.  On the contrary it has helped me to really focus on the core of our message, which is Jesus and what He has done for the world. When we turn from self–righteousness and self-reliance and receive the Messiah sent from God into our hearts, we receive peace from God.  Jesus Himself is our Prince of Peace.

I remember how shocked I was to discover that the Koran speaks highly of the Gospel.

I remember how shocked I was to discover that the Koran speaks highly of the Gospel. Islam’s prophet Muhammad taught that the Gospel is from God, but millions of Muslims and Christians know little or nothing about the Gospel.  This ignorance makes the task of presenting Christ’s Good News to all people extremely urgent.

In the early days of Islam, Muhammad had a particularly good relationship with Christians.  Christians and Jews are called by the Arabic term “Ahl al Kitab,” meaning the “People of the Book.”  The Koran puts forth this idea of goodwill towards Ahl al Kitab: “You will find that the closest to you in love are those who call themselves Christians, because there are priests and monks among them who do not behave arrogantly” (Surah 5:82).

Muslims were encouraged to accept the Scriptures of Jews and Christians, and to live in peace with them. “And argue not with the People of the Book unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which has been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender” (Surah 29:46). 

I am very serious when I say I do not try to convert people from one religion to another.

The Koran goes as far as saying that if a Muslim has questions they can refer to the “People of the Book,” “ask those who have been reading the Book before thee” (Surah 10:94).

During the later part of Muhammad’s life the Koran records instances of hostilities between Muslims and Christians, as well as rebukes of Christians. Still the verses quoted above show openness and good-will.  I would rather focus on common denominators, and on building bridges, than on that which engenders further strife.  Enough books have been written about wars between Christians and Muslims.  My focus is Jesus and His love extended to all.
 

Promoting Jesus and not a religion

I am very serious when I say I do not try to convert people from one religion to another.  This would be fruitless since no religion is able to save even one person.  Christians are sometimes offended when I make this statement.  It is very easy for us Christians to put our focus on the religion of Christianity rather than the person of Jesus.  A quick look at the Bible will reveal that salvation is not found in adherence to a religion.  Statements from the Bible like: “he who has the Son (Jesus) has life” and eternal life is in “no other name than Jesus” put the focus squarely on Jesus and Jesus alone (more about this later). 

I am very serious when I say I do not try to convert people from one religion to another.

While I do not try to convert people from one religion to another, I seek to influence people of all religions to embrace Jesus Christ and His righteousness, which is a free gift to all who believe.  This is not all the same as trying to convert a person from one religion to another.  In fact, millions claim adherence to Christianity, and still have no knowledge of the free gift of Jesus’ righteousness.

Friendship, Not Riot

Like many Christians, I grew up in an environment where Muslims were mistrusted.  Somehow the idea reached my young mind that Muslims wanted to kill Christians.  While there is no question that fanatical Muslims have killed Christians, it is equally true that fanatical Christians have killed Muslims. 

Have my contacts with Muslims been without confrontation or conflict?  By and large, yes.  There have been a few occasions when tension or conflict erupted, but each time it was because Muslims erroneously thought that I was about to attack their religion.

Why would some Muslims think I wanted to speak against their religion?  Let me explain.  For more than thirty years I have conducted large Gospel Festivals around the world.  Crowds of up to 600,000 have attended a single service.  While not all the events reach that magnitude, almost all Festivals reach tens of thousands.  It is impossible to conduct events on this scale without attracting attention from the media.  On a few occasions Muslims have reacted negatively to our advertisements.  On every occasion when I spoke with the Muslims who had opposed our event, I discovered the problem was based on their previous encounters with Christian preachers.  They had heard Christian ministers who used the pulpit to belittle Islam and Muslims.  When they saw our program advertised they assumed this was another event where Christians would bash Muslims.

I remember one tense occasion where rioting occurred in the streets before our Festival started.  After the people heard my first message of Jesus they understood that I was not criticizing Islam.  Fifteen Muslim leaders came late one night to my hotel.  One by one these leaders asked my forgiveness.  It was one of the most touching moments in my life when they said, “Mr. Youngren, we recognize now that you did not come to attack us or our religion, but you have only spoken lovingly about the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

When I was able to share about God’s love revealed in Jesus with an attitude of friendship, the misunderstandings were removed.  I do not mean that we agreed on every fact, or that those Muslim leaders received Jesus as their Savior that night.  No, we still had differences.  However, when I focused on God’s love revealed in Jesus there was a willingness to listen. 

Cartoons

In early 2006, European newspapers released cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.  Muslims viewed these as blasphemous and demonstrations erupted across the world.  Sadly, some died as a result of the protests.  Christians vigorously defended the cartoons on the basis of freedom of the press.  Muslim clerics were equally vigorous in calling the depictions blasphemous. Again many Christian preachers got in the fray.  Some claimed that the violent demonstrations showed the true face of Islam.  I cherish the western freedom of expression and sadly, this freedom is lacking in many Muslim countries.  Still, Christians should know better than to attack other religions.  When the media desecrates Christian values, we are offended and ask for it to be stopped.  Christians protest movies like, “The Last Temptation of Christ” and “The DaVinci Code” because they portray Jesus in a way that is blasphemous to us.  It should be natural for us to show respect for others.  Our real task is far more important than to defend or criticize a cartoon.  Politicians deal in politics.  Newspaper editors deal in editorials.  Our concern is not freedom to speak ill against others, but freedom to express the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ for the world.  I challenge Christians to focus on our task, and I challenge Muslims to not be afraid to let the Gospel of Jesus Christ be heard.

Enough books have been written about wars between Christians and Muslims.  My focus is Jesus and His love extended to all.

Am I Naive?

To Christians who may consider me naive to propose friendship with Muslims in a world of violence and terrorism I ask, “How is your approach to the Muslim world working?”  I question my Christian friends who attack and speak condescending words about Islam, “What results are you seeing?” 

Most importantly, what is Jesus’ approach?  Jesus said, “If anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.  He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him - the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:47-48).  These are amazing statements. 

Jesus says:

1.  He will not now judge the one who does not believe Him;
2.  The purpose now is to bring salvation to people; and
3.  Judgment will come in the last day.

Do you see how this frees us from judging others?  This does not mean that there will never be a judgment.  No, God will judge everyone on the last day.

On each occasion, Jesus ignored the question and stayed focused on His message – to bring salvation and new life to all without discrimination.

There are many opportunities today to be drawn into political debates.  Jesus also faced this challenge. The Samaritan woman who conversed with Jesus tried to get an argument started as to whether the correct place of worship was in the city of Jerusalem or in Samaria (John 4).  The disciples wanted to discuss the establishment of the political kingdom of Israel (Acts 1:4-8).  On each occasion, Jesus ignored the question and stayed focused on His message – to bring salvation and new life to all without discrimination.  Jesus had not come to condemn, but to save.  We follow Jesus!

This article is excerpted from the
book, My Muslim Friends, by Peter
Youngren. To obtain a copy of the
book, visit their online store at
http://www.peteryoungren.org

“In this sometimes provocative and challenging book, Christians are encouraged to discard bigoted views of Muslims, while Muslims are challenged to learn more of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The author quotes freely from the Bible as well as Islam’s holy book, the Koran, noting that these are the only ancient scriptures which give Jesus a supreme position. In a world that seemingly inches ever closer to the precipice of disaster, this book advocates a path of friendship rather than fanaticism, dialogue instead of division. Most of all, readers will be drawn into a deeper encounter with Jesus.”

By: Peter Youngren

As founder of World Impact Ministries, Celebration Bible College, Way of Peace and the Celebration Churches in Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara, Canada, Peter is committed to equipping believers to fulfill their purpose before the return of Jesus Christ.

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