I anticipated an interesting response this time when I asked another missionary nurse how her day was. I had slept all day since I was between night shifts, but she had gone out during the day to observe what goes on during the Muslim holiday known as Tabaski.
“I feel like I’ve had two different days all in one today,” she said as she ate dinner and I sipped coffee before going into work that night.
“First I had a normal day. I woke up, made coffee, and chatted with Megan in our pajamas. Then I took my bike outside just to cruise around and see what everyone else was doing. Big cows were tied up everywhere, others were already slaughtered. I dodged the blood running in streams through the streets. A little boy was walking towards a goat with a machete, and I didn’t stop to watch although I knew what was about to happen. It felt like a totally different day.”
It’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a modern day Passover.
Here in this Muslim town, Tabaski is a big deal. Everyone is celebrating in remembrance of when Abraham almost sacrificed his son (they believe it was Ishmael) but God provided a ram instead. So everyone sacrifices a ram or a bull and shares the meat with their family, their neighbors, and the poor.
It’s essentially a celebration of substitutional sacrifice. The heart of the gospel is hidden behind it all, yet Muslims refuse to accept Jesus as God’s son and the substitutional sacrifice for their sins. And so they keep sacrificing, year after year, trying to atone for wrongs done and gain favor with a God who they view as distant. Even after all their works and right living, they are never sure if they’ve done enough, and at the point of death, they only hope God will deem them worthy of paradise.
So every family sacrifices an animal, the blood runs through the cracks in the red dirt roads, and all I can think of is how this must have been what it was like the very first Passover. Yet the blood of an animal can never fully atone for sins, says Hebrews. Only a perfect substitutional sacrifice can, and God accepted Jesus as that sacrifice, and his blood ran in the cracks of the red dirt to purify once and for all those who believe in him.
Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
And it’s freely offered to all. A gift given by God. By grace through faith. For those who only believe. No strings attached. No works necessary. No favor to earn. Just to look upon the cross and the resurrected savior and believe.
Yet this whole town is celebrating today a sacrifice that means nothing, while refusing the sacrifice that changes everything.
I had a conversation with my Muslim landlord the other day, talking about Jesus. He couldn’t get past the fact that Jesus is called the Son of God. Muslims have a strong belief in the oneness of God, so he despised the thought of Jesus claiming to be God. He also mocked the idea of God being with a woman and then having a son. We talked through these things, but in the end he still told me, “That just sounds terrible to my ears,” as he shook his head and furrowed his brow.
At the same time, I just smiled. Because the name of Jesus, the son of God, sounds so wonderful to my ears. Even though my heart broke for him and his misunderstanding, my own heart turned over with joy. For God has a Son whom he loves, whom he sent as my ransom. He is the perfect solution to the sin problem we created, the way for God to be both just and the one who justifies (Romans 3:26).
“Maybe if you knew more about who Jesus is, it would change the way it sounds in your ears,” I said, still smiling.
“I would like to know more,” he said.
Tomorrow he invited me to eat the meat of the substitutional sacrifice together with his family. What I see is a perfect opportunity to talk about who Jesus is. Would you pray for this? For them? For this population still has sacrificial blood running down their streets because they don’t believe in the blood of the Lamb of God.
The great news? The blood of the Lamb is still available to all who believe, the gospel news is still good news for all who are willing to hear, and Jesus is alive and still in the business of drawing people to himself and saving them by his grace.
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