Salvation is to be found through Him alone; for there is no one else in all the world...by whom we can be saved.
- Acts 4:12
Recently, in the space of just one day, I spent the morning at my (Christian) church, visited the Islamic Society of Augusta in the afternoon to hear a presentation on Islam, and that night attended the Fort Gordon Dinner Theaters performance of the World War II-era Jewish play, Last Night of Ballyhoo.
Talk about an ecumenical experience. I thought about the differences between the worlds three major religions for days. Although Im always interested in learning why others believe as they do, it should come as no surprise that, when the day was over, I found more reasons to continue in my own, familiar faith than to change to either of the other two.
Still I continued to ask, what sets Christianity apart, or is there any difference except for that familiarity? After all, in these tolerant times when we are trying to convince a tense world that the war against terror is not an attack on anyones faith, why would we want to point out the differences? All roads lead to God, anyway, dont they?
or the Christian world, today is the beginning of Advent, that four-week period when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In light of added attention to religion just now, especially to Islam, Id like to explore what it is that makes Jesus different from the central figures of other faiths. My thoughts are in no way a criticism of those other religions. Rather, they represent a personal pilgrimage toward a deeper understanding of my own.
The Jews were ripe for a Messiah long before Jesus was born. Ever since the days of slavery in Egypt more than a thousand years before, their life had been a cycle of bondage, deliverance, and some form of oppression again. Now, although they had been allowed to return to their homeland following a long period of exile, they were subject to the rules and rulers of the Roman Empire. They longed for the days when their own king was on the throne again, someone like David, Solomon, and others who believed, The Lord our God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4), as they did.
The Jews were ripe for a Messiah, but they wanted him to come in power, to conquer the current regime, and remove them from their burdensome existence. They wanted the Messiah the prophet Isaiah had foretold when he said, And the government shall be on his shoulder... and of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end (Isaiah 9:6-7). A child born into a humble family instead of royalty, whose kingdom he later said, is not of this world (John 18:36), was not what they had in mind.
Six centuries after Jesus was born, during another time of political unrest, another man entered the world scene. Though surrounded by wealth himself, the kindly, middle-aged merchant was disturbed by the reckless morality and rampant materialism pervading his Arabic society. After a period of prayer and reflection so deep he believed he could feel Gods presence and hear his voice, he began preaching his new spiritual emphasis to anyone who would listen.
At first his message fell on deaf ears, but in time the converts came. So did the persecution. Because his teachings threatened conventional religion and disrupted commerce in the region, he was forced to leave his native Mecca and move to another Arabian city which is now called Medina. The move coincided with another change in this mans life and focus. His message, which until now had been one of peace, social justice and patience in the face of persecution, gradually became militant. He began advocating war against his accusers, driving the Jews into exile, and before he died, organizing assaults against Christians in neighboring Arab states.
Muhammed, who is still called Prophet by more than a billion people throughout the world, had succumbed to the cry of humanity throughout history to conquer evil through human might.
What sets Jesus apart? He knew every human conquest would one day need conquering again. What He came to do would never need to be done again. It would take more than a human conqueror to transform the human heart. It would take God.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to seabara@aol. com.)
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