Isa al Masih declares Jihad – in a startling way, to a different enemy, at the exact time

The prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) had revealed his mission by raising Lazarus to life  and now he was going to Jerusalem (Al Quds). The way he would arrive had been prophesied hundreds of years before.  The Injil explains:

The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the king of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

“Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”

At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.

Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”  (John 12:12-19)

The entry of Isa al Masih – according to Dawud

Starting with Dawud (PBUH), ancient Jewish Kings would annually mount their royal horse and lead a procession of people into Jerusalem.  Isa al Masih re-enacted this tradition when he entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey on the day we know as Palm Sunday.  The people sang the same song from the Zabur for Isa al Masih as they did for Dawud:

Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.
The Lord is God,
and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.  (Psalm 118:25-27)

The people sang this ancient song written for the Kings because they knew Isa had raised Lazarus, and so they were excited at his arrival into Jerusalem.  The word they shouted, ‘Hosanna’ meant ‘save’ – exactly as Psalm 118:25 had written long before.  What was he going to ‘save’ them from?  We turn to the prophet Zechariah.

The Entry Prophesied by Zechariah

Though Isa al Masih re-enacted what the former kings had done hundreds of years earlier, he did so differently.  The prophet Zechariah PBUH, the one who had prophesied the coming Masih’s name, had also prophesied that the Masih would enter Jerusalem mounted on a donkey.  The timeline shows the Prophet Zechariah in history, along with other prophets who predicted the events of Palm Sunday.

The Prophets who foresaw Isa’s entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday

Part of that prophesy was quoted in the Gospel of John above (in blue text).  Zechariah’s complete prophecy is here:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.  (Zechariah 9:9-11)

This King prophesied by Zechariah would be different from other kings.  He would not become King by using ‘chariots’, ‘warhorses’ and ‘battle bow’.  In fact this King would remove these weapons and would instead ‘proclaim peace to the nations’.  However, this King would still have to struggle to defeat an enemy.  He would have to struggle as in the very greatest jihad.

This is clear when we recognize the enemy the prophecy said this king had to face.  Normally, a king’s enemy is another king from an opposing nation, or another army, or rebellion from his people, or people who are against him.  But the prophet Zechariah wrote that the King revealed on a ‘donkey’ and ‘proclaiming peace’ was going to ‘free the prisoners from the waterless pit’ (v11).  The ‘pit’ was the Hebrew way of referring to the grave, or death.  This King was going to free those who were prisoners, not of dictators, corrupt politicians or trapped in man-made jails, but those who were ‘prisoners’ of death.[1]

When we speak of saving people from death we mean saving someone so that death is put off.  We may, for example, rescue someone who is drowning, or provide some medicine that saves someone’s life.  This ‘saving’ only postpones death because the person who is saved will die later.  But Zechariah was not prophesying about saving people ‘from death’ but about a king who would rescue those imprisoned by death – those already dead.  The King coming on a donkey prophesied by Zechariah was to face and defeat death itself – freeing its prisoners. This would require an enormous struggle – a jihad that had never been seen before. Scholars sometimes refer to the ‘greater jihad’ of our internal struggles and the ‘lesser jihad’ of our external struggles.  In confronting the ‘pit’ this King would go through both of these struggles or jihads.

What weapons was the King going to use in this jihad or struggle with death?  The prophet Zechariah wrote that this King would only take “the blood of my covenant with you” to his battle in the pit.  His own blood would be the weapon with which He would face death.

By entering Jerusalem on the donkey Isa declared himself to be this King – the Masih.

Why Isa al Masih PBUH weeps with sorrow

On Palm Sunday when Isa al Masih entered Jerusalem (also known as the Triumphant Entry) the religious leaders opposed him.  The Gospel of Luke describes Isa al Masih’s response to their opposition.

As he (Isa al Masih) approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”  (Luke 19:41–44)

Isa al Masih said specifically that the leaders should have ‘recognized the time of God’s coming’ on ‘this day’.  What did he mean?  What had they  missed?

The Prophets had Prophesied ‘the Day’

Centuries before the prophet Daniel (PBUH) had prophesied that the Masih would come 483 years after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem.  We had calculated Daniel’s expected year to be 33 AD – the year that Isa al Masih entered Jerusalem on a donkey.  Predicting the year of the entry, hundreds of years before it happened, is astonishing.  But the time can be calculated to the day. (Please review here first as we build on it).

The prophet Daniel had predicted 483 years using a 360-day year before the revealing of the Masih.  Accordingly, the number of days is:

483 years * 360 days/year = 173880 days

In terms of the modern international calendar with 365.2422 days/year this is 476 years with 25 extra days. (173 880/365.24219879 = 476 remainder 25)

When was the decree to restore Jerusalem which started this countdown?  It was given:

In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes … (Nehemiah 2:1)

Which day in Nisan (a month in the Jewish calendar) is not given, but Nisan 1 is likely since it started the New Year, giving reason for the King to talk to Nehemiah in the celebration.  Nisan 1 would also mark a new moon since months were lunar (like the Islamic calendar).  New moons were determined in the traditional Muslim way – with recognized men observing the new crescent (hilal) of the moon.  With modern astronomy we know when that new moon marking Nisan 1, 444 BC was first visible.  The difficulty is to know if the first crescent was actually seen by the observers that day or if it was missed and the start of Nisan was delayed by one day.  Astronomical calculations place the crescent moon of Nisan 1 of the 20th year of Persian Emperor Artaxerxes at 10 PM on March 4, 444 BC in the modern calendar[2].  If the crescent appearance was missed, Nisan 1 would have been the next day March 5, 444 BC.  Either way, the Persian decree to restore Jerusalem would have been issued March 4 or March 5, 444 BC.

Adding the 476 years of Daniel’s prophesied time to this date brings us to March 4 or 5, 33 AD. (There is no year 0, the modern calendar going from 1BC to 1 AD in one year so the arithmetic is -444 + 476 +1= 33).  Adding the 25 remaining days of Daniel’s prophesied time to March 4 or 5, 33 AD gives us March 29 or 30, 33 AD, illustrated in the timeline below.  March 29, 33 AD, was SundayPalm Sunday – the very day that Isa PBUH entered Jerusalem on the donkey, claiming to be the Masih.  We know this because the coming Friday was Passover – and Passover was always on Nisan 14.  Nisan 14 in 33 AD was April 3.  Being 5 days before Friday April 3, Palm Sunday was March 29.

By entering Jerusalem on March 29 33AD, seated on a donkey, the prophet Isa PBUH fulfilled both the prophecy of Zechariah and the prophecy of Daniel – to the day.  This is illustrated in the timeline below.

Daniel had predicted 173 880 days before revealing of Masih; Nehemiah had started the time. It concluded on March 29, 33AD when Isa entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday

These many prophecies fulfilled on one day shows the clear signs that Allah used to reveal His plan about the Masih.  But the next day, on Monday March 30, 33 AD, Isa al Masih fulfilled yet another prophecy from the Prophet Musa PBUH.  In doing so he set in motion the events that would lead to his jihad with the ‘pit’ – his enemy death.  We look at this next.


[1] Some examples on how ‘pit’ meant death for the prophets:

“But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit.” (Isaiah 14:15)

For the grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness. (Isaiah 38:18)

They draw near to the pit, and their life to the messengers of death. (Job 33:22)

They will bring you down to the pit, and you will die a violent death in the heart of the seas. (Ezekiel 28:8)

Their graves are in the depths of the pit and her army lies around her grave. (Ezekiel 32 : 23)

You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit. (Psalm 30: 3)

[2] For conversions between ancient and modern calendars (e.g. Nisan 1  = March 4, 444BC) and calculations of ancient new moons I use the work of Dr. Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ.  1977. 176pp.

 

 

The Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) saves a ‘lost’ traitor

The Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) had brought Lazarus back to life from death – revealing the purpose of his mission – to destroy death itself.  Now he was on his way to Jerusalem to complete his mission.  On the way he passed through Jericho (which still exists today in Palestinian West Bank).  Because of his many miracles and teachings a large crowd came out to see him.  In that crowd was a rich but despised man – Zacchaeus.  He was rich because he was a tax collector for the Romans who occupied Judea with military force.  He would collect more taxes from the people than Rome required – and keep the extra for himself.  He was despised by the Jews because, though a Jew himself, he was working for the Roman occupiers in this way and cheating his own people.  He was viewed as a traitor to his people.

So Zacchaeus, being short, could not see the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) in the crowd, and no one there was willing to help him.  The Injil records how he met the Prophet and what was said:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  (Luke 19: 1-10)

The people did not like what the prophet had done – inviting himself to Zacchaeus’s home.  Zacchaeus was bad and everyone knew it.  But Zacchaeus recognized that he was a sinner.  Most of us hide our sins, cover them up or pretend that that we have no sins.  But not Zacchaeus.  He knew that was doing wrong – a traitor even.  Yet when he took the first step to meet the Prophet, Isa al Masih’s response was so warm that it surprised everyone.

Isa al Masih (PBUH) wanted Zaccheus to repent, turn away from sin, and to turn to him as ‘Masih’.  When Zaccheus did this he found that the Prophet (PBUH) pardoned him – declaring that he was ‘saved’ from being ‘lost’.

How about you and me?  We probably have not done such shameful things as Zacchaeus.  But because we are not so bad, we think that, like Adam, we can hide, cover up or pretend away the ‘little’ sins and ‘mistakes’ that we do.  We hope we can do enough good things to pay for our bad deeds.  That was what the crowd who came to see the prophet thought.  Therefore, Isa did not invite himself to any of their homes, nor declare that any of them were ‘saved’ – only Zacchaeus.  It is far better for us to admit our sins before Allah and not try hiding them.  Then as we ourselves reach out for the mercy of Isa al Masih we will find that forgiveness and pardon will be given to us beyond what we can imagine.

But how could Zacchaeus’s bad actions be erased so that he could have assurance of forgiveness from that moment – without waiting for Judgment Day?  We follow Isa al Masih (PBUH) as he continues to Jerusalem to complete his mission.

Isa al Masih’s Mission in the Raising of Lazarus

Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught, healed, and performed many miracles.  But the question still remained in the minds of his disciples, his followers and even his enemies: why had he come?  Many of the previous prophets, including the Prophet Musa (PBUH), also performed powerful miracles.  Since Musa had already given the law, and Isa himself said he “had not come to abolish the law”, why was it then that he was sent by Allah?

The Prophet’s (PBUH) friend became very sick.  His disciples expected that the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) would heal his friend, as he healed many others.  But Isa al Masih (PBUH) purposely did not heal his friend and in so doing revealed his mission.  The Injil records it in this way:

Isa al Masih confronts Death

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days,and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light.10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”

11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Jesus Comforts the Sisters of Lazarus

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem,19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11: 1-44)

The sisters hoped that Isa al Masih would come quickly to heal their brother.  Isa al Masih delayed his trip on purpose allowing Lazarus to die, and no one could understood why he did this.  But in this instance we can see into his heart and we read that he was angry.  But who was he angry at?  The sisters?  The crowd?  The disciples?  Lazarus?  No, he was angry at death itself.  Also, this is one of only two times where it is recorded that Isa al Masih wept.  Why did he weep?  It is because he saw his friend held by death.  Death stirred anger as well as weeping in the prophet.

Healing people of sicknesses, good as that is, only postpones their death.  Healed or not, death eventually holds all people, whether good or bad, man or woman, old or young, religious or not.  This has been true since Adam, who, according to both Taurat and Quran, had become mortal because of his disobedience.  All his descendants, you and me included, are held by hostage by an enemy – death.  Against death we feel that there is no answer, no hope.  When there is only sickness hope remains, which is why the sisters of Lazarus had hope in healing.  But with death they felt no hope.  This is true for us also.  In the hospital there is some hope but at the funeral there is none.  Death is our final enemy.  This is the enemy Isa al Masih came to defeat for us and this is why he declared to the sisters that:

“I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)

Isa al Masih (PBUH) had come to destroy death and give life to all who wanted it.  He showed his authority for this mission by publicly raising Lazarus from death.  It would be an offer to do the same for all others who would want life instead of death.

Responses to the Prophet

Though death is the final enemy of all people, many of us are caught up with smaller ‘enemies’, resulting from conflicts (political, religious, ethnic etc.) that go on with others around us all the time.  This was true in Isa al Masih’s time also.   From the responses of the witnesses to this miracle we can see what the main concerns of the different people living in that time were.  Here are the different reactions recorded.

45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

54 Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.

55 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. 56 They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?” 57 But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him.

So the tension rose.  The Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) had declared that he was ‘life’ and ‘resurrection’ and would defeat death itself.  The leaders responded by plotting to put him to death.  Many of the people believed him, but many others did not know what to believe.  At this point it might be worthwhile to ask ourselves if we were witnesses to the raising of Lazarus what we would choose to do.  Would we be like the Pharisees, focused on some conflict that will soon be forgotten in history, and lose the offer of life from death?  Or would we ‘believe’ in him and put our hope in his offer of resurrection, even if we did not understand it all?  The different responses that the Injil records back then are the same responses to his offer that different people make today.

These controversies were growing as the Passover festival was approaching – the very same festival that the Prophet Musa (PBUH) had begun 1500 years earlier as a Sign of death passing over.  The Injil continues by showing how the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) decided to accomplish his mission of defeating death.

The Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) & the sign of Jonah

We have seen how the Injil records the teachings, healings and miracles of the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH).  He often gave invitations to his listeners (and to us) to receive what he offered.  He offered ‘living water’, mercy to sinners, finding the ‘lost’, and invited all who were willing to enter the ‘Kingdom of God’.

These teachings perplexed the religious leaders of his day.  In particular they wondered what authority he had to speak.  For example, did he really have the authority to offer God’s mercy to guilty people, and the authority to pay for entry into the Kingdom of God for all?  So the religious leaders (who are like imams today) asked him for a sign to prove his authority.  The Injil records their conversation:

Isa refers to the Sign of Jonah (Yunus)

38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”

39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.  (Matthew 12:38-41)

Prophet Yunus in History

Isa al Masih (PBUH) answered by pointing to the prophet Jonah (also called Yunus or Yunis).  You can see in the timeline below that the prophet Yunus lived about 800 years before the Prophet Isa al Masih.

Prophet Jonah (Yunus or Yunis) in Historical Timeline

Prophet Yunus in Quran

Yunus PBUH wrote a book that is in the Prophetic writings. The Quran summarizes his book like this:

And indeed, Jonah was among the messengers.

when he ran away to the laden ship.

And he drew lots and was among the losers.

Then the fish swallowed him, while he was blameworthy.

And had he not been of those who exalt Allah ,

He would have remained inside its belly until the Day they are resurrected.

But We threw him onto the open shore while he was ill.

And We caused to grow over him a gourd vine.

And We sent him to [his people of] a hundred thousand or more.

And they believed, so We gave them enjoyment [of life] for a time.

(As-Saffat 37: 139-148)

Prophet Yunus was swallowed by a huge fish because he ran away from the mission that Allah had given him – to preach repentance to the city of Ninevah (close to modern-day Mosul in Iraq).  Islamic scholar Yusuf Ali says about ayah 144 (‘He would have remained inside its belly until the Day they are resurrected’)

This is just the idiom.  This was to be the burial and grave of Jonah.  If he had not repented he could not have got out of the body of the creature that had swallowed him, until the Day or Resurrection, when all dead would be raised up. (Footnote 4125 of Yusuf Ali translation of Quran)

In other words, being inside the fish was a death sentence that would normally only be released on the Day of Resurrection.

The Prophet Yunus from his own Book

Jonah’s book in the Old Testament gives greater details about his time in the great fish.  He tells us:

17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.  From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said:

“In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers swept over me.
I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight;
yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’
The engulfing waters threatened me
the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.

“When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.

“Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land  (Jonah 1:17 – 2:10)

What is the ‘Sign of Jonah’?

Normally we expect that when someone’s authority is challenged, as in the authority of the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH), he would respond by showing power, victory or success.  But Isa al Masih defends his authority by referring to when the Prophet Jonah had been 3 days ‘in the realm of the dead’ – the ‘pit’ or grave.  During this time, since Jonah had disobeyed the command of Allah, he had ‘been banished from your sight’ i.e., from the sight of Allah.  The episode of Jonah in the grip of death for 3 days in the black depths, banished from Allah, is a surprising credential of authority from God.  Why would Isa al Masih choose a sign that appears to remove authority?

But this is not the first time we come across weakness and death as a Sign of Allah.  We saw that the prophet Isaiah had prophesied the Coming Servant.  Isaiah prophesied that this Servant would be ‘despised’ and ‘rejected by men’ and would be ‘considered punished by God’ and would be ‘cut off from the land of the living’ and be ‘assigned a grave with the wicked’.  That sounds a lot like what Jonah went through.  Stranger still, it was ‘the Lord’s will to crush him (the servant)”.  Though we may not understand why Isa al Masih (PBUH) chose this Sign of Jonah (Yunus) to defend his authority, this is not an isolated occurence.

The clue that brings understanding is how Jonah ended his prayer in the belly of the fish.  The last phrase of his prayer was “Salvation comes from the LORD”.  We saw how the name ‘Jesus’ is the same as ‘Joshua’ and that this was the prophecy of the coming Branch. But what does ‘Joshua’ mean?  In Hebrew it means ‘The LORD saves’.  In his prayer the prophet Jonah acknowledged that he (and we) need to be ‘saved’ and that it is the LORD who does the saving.  His double-sided truth declared both our need (to be saved) and God as the one who does the saving. The name of Isa al Masih (Yhowshuwa in Hebrew) literally has this same truth that Jonah in the fish finally acknowledged since the name Jesus/Joshua means ‘The LORD saves’.

The Prophet Isa al Masih concluded his conversation with the religious leaders by reminding them that the people of Ninevah (the city where Yunus had been sent to preach) had believed and repented at Jonah’s message – but the leaders who listened to Isa al Masih were not willing to repent.  These leaders were unwilling to acknowledge that they needed saving.  We should examine our own hearts to see if we are like the men of Ninevah (who repented) or the leaders (who did not).  Which of the two are you?

We continue to follow Isa al Masih to see more completely what this Sign of Jonah means and how ‘The LORD saves’ as Isa al Masih’s mission moves to its end.

The Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) does a 'Hajj'

We are all familiar with Hajj since it is celebrated every year when Muslims perform the required acts of devotion in the pilgrimage to Mecca.  What is less known is that the Sharia law of Musa (PBUH), received 3500 years ago, also required Jewish believers of that time to make sacred pilgrimages to Jerusalem (Al-Quds) every year.  One such pilgrimage was called the Feast of Tabernacles (or Sukkot).  This pilgrimage ordered by the prophet Musa (PBUH) has many similarities to that of the Hajj today.  For example, both of these pilgrimages were on a specific week of the calendar, both involved sacrifices of animals, both involved obtaining special water, both involved sleeping outdoors, and both involved marching around a sacred structure seven times.  In a sense, the Feast of Tabernacles was like a Hajj for Jews.  Today, in fact, Jews still celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles but do it a little differently since their Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

The Injil records how the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) did the pilgrimage for this Feast one year – his ‘Hajj’.  I reproduce the account with some explanations when appropriate.

Jesus Goes to the Festival of Tabernacles (John 7)

After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him.

Here his brothers were treating the prophet with sarcasm since they did not believe in him.  But something happened later which caused a change in his brothers because two of his brothers, James and Jude, later wrote letters (called James and Jude) that are part of the New Testament (Injil).

Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.

10 However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. 11 Now at the festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, “Where is he?”

12 Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.”

Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” 13 But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders.

Jesus Teaches at the Festival

14 Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. 15 The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”

16 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.

18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. 19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”

20 “You are demon-possessed,” the crowd answered. “Who is trying to kill you?”

21 Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed. 22 Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. 23 Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? 24 Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”

Division Over Who Jesus Is

25 At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? 26 Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah? 27 But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.”

As you can see, the discussion in that time among the Jews was whether the Prophet Isa (PBUH) was the Masih (Messiah) or not.  The Jewish people believed that the place where the Masih would come from would be unknown.  Since they knew where Isa came from they thought that he could therefore not be the Masih.  So where did they get this belief that the origin of the Masih would not be known?  From Taurat?  Writings of Prophets?  Not at all!  The prophets had clearly stated where the Masih would come from.  The prophet Micah (PBUH) in 700 BC had written in Zabur that

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

This prophecy (see article here for more details on this) had stated that the ruler (= Masih) would come from Bethlehem.  We saw in the birth of the Masih that he was indeed born in Bethlehem as that prophecy had predicted 700 years before his birth.

It was simply religious tradition of the time that said that the place where the Masih came from would be unknown.  They made an error because they did not judge by what the prophets had written but instead judged by opinion on the street, the ideas of their day.  We need to be careful that we do not make the same mistake.

The account continues…

28 Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, 29 but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”

30 At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. 31 Still, many in the crowd believed in him. They said, “When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?”

32 The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him.

33 Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. 34 You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.”

35 The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? 36 What did he mean when he said, ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

On this day of the Festival the Jews would take water from a special spring on the south of Jerusalem and enter into the city through the ‘water gate’ and take the water to the altar in the temple.  It was while they were doing this sacred water ceremony that the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) cried out, as he had said before, that he was the source of ‘Living Water’.  In saying this he was reminding them of the thirst in our hearts leading to sin that the prophets had written about, as well as the promise of the coming Spirit who would be given to those who believed in him to satisfy this thirst so that they need not longer be slaves to sin.

40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”

Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

Back then, just like today, people were divided about the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH). As we saw above, the prophets had predicted the birth of the Masih to be in Bethlehem (where Isa was born).  But what about this question of the Masih not coming from Galilee?  Isaiah the prophet (PBUH) had written in 700 BC that

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9: 1-2)

So the prophets had predicted that the Masih would begin his teaching (a light has dawned) in ‘Galilee’ – the very place where Isa had indeed begun his teaching and did most of his miracles.  Again the people were mistaken because they had not carefully studied the prophets and instead only believed what was commonly taught by their teachers.

Unbelief of the Jewish Leaders

45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.

47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”

52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

We can see that the experts in the Law were completely wrong since Isaiah had prophesied that the enlightening would come from ‘Galilee’.

Two lessons come to me from this account.  First it is very easy to perform our religious activities with much zeal but with little knowledge.  As we approach Hajj we need to be careful that the following is not true of us

For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. (Romans 10:2)

We need to learn what the prophets have written so we are properly informed.

Second, we see here that the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) makes an offer.  He said at their Hajj that

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.

This offer is given to ‘anyone’ (thus not only to Jews, or Christians, or Muslims etc.) who ‘is thirsty’.  Are you thirsty?  (See here for what the prophets meant by this).  It is good to drink from the zamzam well.  Why not also drink from the Masih who can satisfy our inner thirst?

Isa al Masih (PBUH) comes to find … the Lost

Often, religious people will keep themselves apart from those who are not religious so that they will not share in their uncleanness. This was also true of the teachers of Sharia law in the time of the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH). They kept themselves apart from the unclean so that they would remain pure. But Isa al Masih (PBUH) had taught that our purity and cleanliness is foremost a matter of our hearts. Thus he would associate with those who were not ritually clean. Here is how the injil records both his association with sinners and the reaction of the teachers of sharia law.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)

So why would Isa al Masih (PBUH) welcome and eat with sinners? Did he enjoy sin? The prophet answered his critics by telling three parables, or stories.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:3-7)

In this story the prophet (PBUH) likens us to sheep while he is the shepherd of the sheep. He explains that like any shepherd going off to search for a lost sheep, he himself is out searching to find lost people. Perhaps you have been caught in some sin – even a secret one that no one in your family knows. Or perhaps your life, with all its problems, is so confusing that it is leaving you feeling lost. This story is meant to give hope because you can know that the prophet (PBUH) is seeking to find and help you. He wants to rescue you before harm destroys you.

Then he told a second story.

The Parable of the Lost Coin

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15: 8-10)

In this story we are the valuable but lost coin and he is the one searching for the coin. The irony is that though the coin is lost somewhere in the house, it itself does not ‘know’ that it is lost. It does not feel the loss.  It is the woman who feels the sense of loss and therefore she sweeps the house very carefully looking under and behind everything, not satisfied until she finds that valuable coin. Perhaps you do not ‘feel’ lost. But the truth is that we all need to repent, and if you have not, then you are lost, whether you feel it or not. In the prophet’s eyes you are the valuable but lost coin and he knows the loss so is looking and working to make repentance clear to you.

His third story was the most powerful.

The Parable of the Lost Son

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

In this story we are either the older, religious son, or the younger son who goes far off. Though the older son observed all the religious rules he never understood the loving heart of his father. The younger son thought he was gaining freedom by leaving home but found himself enslaved by starvation and humiliation.   Then he ‘came to his senses’ and realized he could go back to his home. Going back would reveal that he was wrong to leave in the first place, and to admit that would require humility. This is an illustration given to us to help us understand what ‘repent’, which the prophet Yahya (PBUH) taught so boldly, really means.

And when he swallowed his pride and returned he found the love to be so much more than he could have hoped. The sandals, the robe, the ring, the feast, the blessing, the acceptance – all speak of love. This story is to help us understand that Allah loves us that much and he wants us to return to him. It will require that we ‘repent’ but when we do we will find Him ready to receive us. This is what the Prophet Isa al Masih (pbuh) wants us to learn in this story. Can you submit to and accept this kind of love?

How should I fast?

When Ramadan comes and it is time to fast I have discussions with friends on how to best fast. For example, if Ramadan occurs in the May-to-July period, and we live in Northern countries with almost 18 or more hours between sunrise and sunset the question of whether it is permissible to use some other daylight standard (such as based on the sunrise to sunset interval in Mecca) is asked. My friends follow different rulings by different scholars on this and similar kinds of questions on what is permissible and what is not as we live in complicated situations.

Important as these discussions are, we almost always forget the equally important question of how we should live so our fasting pleases Allah. The prophets had much to say about this and their message about living for proper fasting is as important for us today as it was when they lived.

The Prophet Isaiah (PBUH) lived in a time (see historical timeline) when the believers practiced their religious obligations (like prayers and fasting) strictly, so they were religious,

Historical Timeline of Prophet Isaiah (PBUH) with some other prophets in Zabur
Historical Timeline of Prophet Isaiah (PBUH) with some other prophets in Zabur

but it was also a time of great corruption.   (See article introducing Zabur for overview of this period). The people were full of fighting, corruption and disputes. That sounds like us today does it not? So this message is important for us too.

True Fasting

58 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
    Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
    they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
    and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. (Isaiah 58: 1-12)

Do not these promises for true living with fasting sound wonderful?  But the people in that time did not listen to them and other messages warning them of judgment if they did not repent (see here on what the prophet Yahya PBUH taught about repenting). So they were judged as Prophet Musa (PBUH) had prophesied in Taurat (here).  This message remains as a sign and warning to us since how the prophet described the way they were living while fasting sounds like us today.

We each have to decide if we will obey this message and repent from how we are living and treating each other. But it will be of no use to fast, with whatever fasting rules our imams permit, and still fail to please Allah by living in a way that displeases him.

The Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) extends Mercy

Have you ever broken a command in sharia law? This is something that none of us want to do, but the reality is that many of us are hiding our failures, hoping that others will not discover our sin and expose our shame. But what if it is discovered, what do you hope for then?

This happened to a young woman during the teaching of the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH). The injil records it like this.

The woman caught in adultery

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8: 2-11)

We see that this woman had been caught in the very act of adultery and the teachers of the Sharia law of the Prophet Musa (PBUH) wanted her to be stoned, but they took her first to the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) to see what he would say about the matter. Would he uphold the truth of the law they wondered. (Incidentally, according to the law both the man and the woman were subject to stoning, but only the woman was brought forward for punishment.)

The Justice of Allah & sin of mankind

Isa al Masih (PBUH) did not overturn the law – it was the standard given by Allah and reflected perfect justice. But he said that only those who were without any sin could throw the first stone. As the teachers pondered this, the reality of the following statement from the Zabur settled into their minds

The Lord looks down from heaven
on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

What the Zabur means is that it is not only the unbelievers, the kafirs and the polytheists who sin – even those who believe in Allah and His messengers they also sin. In fact, according to these ayat, when Allah looks on mankind He does not find even ‘one’ who does good.

The Sharia law of Musa (PBUH) was God’s arrangement with mankind based on absolute justice, and those who followed it could obtain righteousness. But as we saw the standard was absolute, without even one deviation allowed.

The Mercy of Allah

But since ‘all have become corrupt’, a new arrangement was needed. This arrangement would not be justice based on merit – because people could not uphold their lawful obligations – so it had to be based on another character of Allah – mercy.  He would extend mercy in place of obligation. This was anticipated in the Law of the prophet Musa (PBUH) when the Passover lamb granted mercy and life to those who painted blood on their doorposts, and with the Cow (which is what Surah 2 – Baqarah – is named after) of Harun (PBUH). It was even anticipated before that in the mercy of clothes to Adam, the sacrifice of Habil (PBUH), and the mercy given to the prophet Noah (PBUH). It was also anticipated in the Zabur when Allah promised that

I will remove the sin of this land in a single day (Zechariah 3: 9)

And now the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) extended it to someone who had no other hope but to receive mercy. It is interesting that no mention or requirement was made of this woman’s religion. What we do know in the injil is that the Prohet Isa al Masih taught in his Sermon on the Mount that

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

And

‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-2)

Extend Mercy to receive Mercy

The chance is very high that you and I will both be needing Mercy extended to us at the Day of Judgment. The Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) was willing to extend that to someone who clearly had violated the commands – who did not deserve it. What he did require though is that we also extend mercy to those around us. According to him, the level of mercy that we extend will be the measure used to determine the mercy that we will get. This may be a wise teaching to follow in our day when we are so quick to severely judge the faults and sins of those around us. It is because we are so quick to judge the sins of others that there is so much conflict around us. Let us ask God to help us become people who, like the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH), will extend mercy to those who do not deserve it, so that we, undeserving that we are, can also receive it when we will need it.

The Prophet Yahya (PBUH) suffers – and shows – true Martyrdom

The word ‘martyr’ is used a lot these days. I hear it when someone is killed in one of the many wars going on, or in some conflict between sects when fighters are killing each other and someone dies. He usually is referred to as a ‘martyr’ by his side (and perhaps a kafir by the other side).

But is this correct? The injil records how the prophet Yahya (PBUH) was martyred during the ministry of Isa al Masih (PBUH) and he provides a great example of how to understand this. Here is how the injil records these events:

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. (Matthew 14: 1-12)

We see first why the prophet Yahya (PBUH) had been arrested. The local king (Herod) had taken his brother’s wife from him and made her his own wife – which was contrary to the sharia law of Musa (PBUH). Being a prophet Yahya (PBUH) had publicly said that this was wrong but the corrupt king, instead of listening to the prophet, had arrested him.  The wife, who benefited from this new marriage because she was now the wife of a powerful king, wanted the prophet silenced so she conspired to have her grown daughter perform a sensual dance before her husband the king and his guests at a party. He was so moved by the daughter’s performance that he promised to give her whatever she asked. Her mother told her to ask for the head of the prophet Yahya (PBUH). So the prophet Yahya (PBUH), jailed because he spoke the truth, was beheaded simply because the sensual dance of a girl trapped the king in front of his guests.

We also see that the prophet Yahya (PBUH) was not fighting anyone, nor was he trying to kill the king. He was simply speaking the truth. He was not afraid to warn a corrupt king even though he had no earthly power to stand against the might of this king. He spoke the truth because of his love for sharia law revealed to the prophet Musa (PBUH). This is a good example for us today showing how we fight (by speaking truth) and what we fight for (truth of the prophets). The prophet Yahya (PBUH) did not try to kill the king, lead a revolution or start a war. This was how he was martyred.

And his approach was most effective. The king was so conscience-stricken by his murder that he thought that the powerful teachings and miracles of the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) was Yahya (PBUH) come back to life.

Isa al Masih (PBUH) said this about the prophet Yahya (PBUH)

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Matthew 11: 7-15)

Here Isa (PBUH) confirms that Yahya (PBUH) was the ‘preparer’ prophesied to come and that he was great among the prophets. His entrance to the Kingdom of heaven endures to this day while King Herod – so powerful back then – has nothing because he refused to submit to the prophets.

There were violent people in the prophet Yahya’s (PBUH) day who beheaded others and likewise there are violent people who do the same today. These violent people are even ‘raiding’ the Kingdom of Heaven. But they will not enter it. Entering the Kingdom of Heaven means taking the path that Yahya (PBUH) took – of making peace and speaking truth. We are wise if we follow his example and not the examples of so many who follow violence today.

Isa al Masih (PBUH) offers ‘Living Water’

Previously we learned how the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught how we should treat those we consider to be our enemies. In our present-day world where we have conflict between Sunni and Shiite, supporters and opponents of Assad in Syria, Palestinians and Israelis … in Iraq … in Ukraine – no matter what country you may find yourself in there is most likely conflict between different groups where people hate and kill each other. This has turned our world into hellish misery. Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught in this Parable that our entry into Paradise was dependant on how we treated our enemies!   We should carefully consider this if we want entry into Paradise.

But it is easy to teach one thing, yet act quite differently. Even many imams and other religious teachers have taught one thing but lived quite another. What about the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH)? On one occasion he had an encounter with a Samaritan. (Remember that in his day there was enmity between Jews and Samaritans that is similar to that between Palestinians and Israelis today). Here is how the Injil records the encounter.

Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”  (John 4:1-42)

Notice how the Samaritan woman was surprised that the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) would even initiate a conversation with her – there was considerable enmity between Jews and Samaritans in that day. Isa started by asking to drink some of the water she was drawing from the well. He did this for two reasons. First, as it says, he was thirsty and wanted a drink. But he (being a prophet) also knew that she was thirsty in an entirely different way. She was thirsty for joy and satisfaction in her life. She thought she could satisfy this thirst by having unlawful relations with men. So she had had several husbands and even as she was speaking to the prophet she was living with a man who was not her husband. Everyone viewed her as immoral. This is probably why she had gone alone to get water at noon since the other women in the village did not want her to be with them when they went to the well in the cool of the morning. This woman had had many men, and her shame alienated her from the women in the village.

We saw in the Zabur how the prophets wrote how sin is from a deep thirst in our lives – a thirst that must be quenched. Many today, whatever their religion, live in sinful ways because of this thirst.

But the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) did not avoid this sinful woman.  Instead he told her that he could give her ‘living water’ that would quench her thirst. But he was not speaking of physical water (which as he said if you drank once you would be thirsty again later) but a change in her heart, a change from the inside. The prophets of the Zabur had prophesied that this Covenant of a new heart was coming. Isa al Masih (PBUH) offered her this new covenant of a changed heart ‘welling up to eternal life’.

To Believe – Confessing in truth

But this offer of ‘living water’ threw the woman into a crisis. When Isa told her to get her husband he was purposefully causing her to recognize and admit her sin – to confess it. This is something we avoid at all costs! We prefer to hide our sins, hoping no one will see. Or we rationalize, making excuses for our sin.   Adam & Eve had done this in the Garden and still today we prefer to hide or excuse our sin. But if we want to experience the Mercy of God leading to ‘eternal life’ then we must be honest and admit our sin, because the Injil promises that:

If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

For this reason, when the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) told the Samaritan woman that

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth...

By ‘truth’ he meant being truthful and authentic about ourselves, not trying to hide or excuse our wrong. The wonderful news is that Allah ‘seeks’ and will not turn away worshipers who come with honesty like this.

But it was too difficult for her to admit her sin. A common way to hide our shame is to change the subject from our sin to that of a religious dispute. Today the world is full of religious disputes. In that day there was a religious dispute between the Samaritans and the Jews regarding the proper place of worship. The Jews stated that worship should be done in Jerusalem and Samaritans held that it should be on a mountain further north called Mount Gerizim. By switching to this religious dispute she was hoping to divert the conversation from her sin. She could now hide her sin behind this religious dispute.

How easily and naturally we do the same thing – especially if we are religious. Then we can judge how others are wrong or how we are correct – all the while ignoring our need to confess our sin.

The prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) did not enter into this dispute with her. He insisted that it was not so much the place of worship, but her honesty about herself in worship that mattered. She could come before Allah anywhere (since He is Spirit), but she needed to come in truth about herself before she could receive this ‘living water’.

She now had an important decision to make. She could continue trying to hide behind a religious dispute or perhaps just leave. But she finally chose to admit her sin – to confess – so much so that she went back to the village to tell others how this prophet knew her and what she had done. She did not hide anymore. In doing this she became a ‘believer’. She had been religious before, as many of us are, but now she – and many in her village – became ‘believers’.

To become a believer is not simply about mentally asserting correct teaching – important though that is. It is also about believing that His promise of mercy can be trusted, and therefore there is no longer a need to cover up sin. This is what the Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) had done so long ago to obtain righteousness – he trusted a promise.

Do you excuse or hide your sin? Do you hide it with devout religious practice or religious dispute? Or do you confess your sin? Why not come before Allah our Creator and truthfully confess sin causing guilt and shame? Then you can rejoice that He ‘seeks’ your worship and will ‘purify’ you from all unrighteousness. For sure we need to continue in the Injil to understand how He will do this and how we should live. We see from the conversation that this woman’s understanding of the prophet Isa (PBUH) as the ‘Messiah’ (= ‘Christ’ = ‘Masih’) was important and that after the prophet Isa (PBUH) had stayed and taught them for two days they understood him as ‘the Saviour of the world’.  Perhaps we do not fully understand what this all means.  But as the Prophet Yahya (PBUH) had prepared the people to understand, to confess our sin will prepare us to receive Mercy from Him. This is indeed a step on the Straight Way.

‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’