21st Dec 2021

We used to live in a district of a Muslim megacity where no church existed. I often pondered how to invite my new neighbours to follow Jesus. I soon realised that to reveal the true beauty of who Jesus is I had to get rid of some of the unnecessary wrappings I thought were part of the gospel. Things like; you have to come to church to be saved, or if you want to follow Jesus you must tell everyone you’ve become a Christian. My problem was that no one around me was remotely interested in becoming a Christian and they certainly wouldn’t set foot inside a church even if there was one! It left me asking,’ ‘Does God have nothing to say to people who don’t want to become ‘Christian’ and won’t (or can’t) come to a church?’ If he does, what is it? And how do I present it? 

Nabeel Jabbour in his book ‘The Crescent Through the Eyes of the Cross’ tells a story of how, when coaching some Egyptian believers, he wrapped a tangerine in multiple layers of paper on which he’d written various statements, such as: 

‘I need to change my name from a Muslim name to a Christian name in order to enter the Kingdom of God,’ and ‘I must start using terminology like ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Praise the Lord,’ or ‘To follow Jesus I must become pro-Israel in my politics.’   

“By the time I finished,” he says, “that tangerine was almost as big as a volleyball. Later I showed them the ball of paper and told them that inside was something that symbolises the gospel. I showed them what was written on the outside sheet and asked them, “Is this the gospel?” They said, “No.” Then I peeled the outer sheet, showing them what was written, and asked, “Is this the gospel?” Again they said “No.” As I kept peeling the atmosphere of excitement was building up. When there was only one sheet left they could tell there was a tangerine inside and started giggling. Then I peeled the last sheet off, held the tangerine in my hand and asked them, “Is this the gospel?” and they yelled out, “Yes!” But I said, “No.” Then I peeled the tangerine and said, “This is the gospel!”   

As I wrestled with how to share the gospel in a way that didn’t sound like ‘my religion is better than your religion’ I slowly began to take off the unnecessary wrappings and discover things hidden in plain sight in the Bible. Here are a few of the verses that helped me, along with the simple lessons I learned:   

Matthew 4:23 - Jesus went throughout Galilee, … proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. 

Matthew 24:14 -  This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. 

I realised from these verses that the name of our message is the ‘gospel of the kingdom’, not ‘the gospel of Christianity’. This was an important insight as the vast majority of people around me associated Christianity with the west, and therefore with political oppression, greed, and immorality. It was a huge relief to realise I could talk about the kingdom of God rather than religion.   

Matthew 6:9-10 - Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 

We’re all familiar with this prayer but for the first time I sat and thought about it logically. If we’re to pray for God’s kingdom to come then it means there are places where it hasn’t come yet, but it can come. My job therefore was to represent the king, demonstrating signs of the kingdom through kindness, healings, deliverance and sharing truth with anyone ready to listen.   

Colossians 1:13 - For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. 

I learned that there are two kingdoms: God’s kingdom and a ‘dark’ kingdom. All Muslims can see the brokenness around them so I began to find this a simple way to explain how Jesus came to show us a different kingdom - the kingdom of God.  

Matthew 7:21 - Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven… 

This states that the kingdom is something to be entered. In other words, you’re either in or you’re out. My ministry was therefore to invite people to enter the kingdom through Jesus, not change religions. There will always be stumbling blocks for Muslims to come to faith but I learnt that Jesus should be the stumbling block, not Christianity.   

Mark 5:18-19 - As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, ‘Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ 

Within a year of being in country we saw some young men begin to follow Jesus. What do they tell their families? Surely we’ve brought unnecessary suffering to Muslims who have turned to Christ by instructing them to tell their families they’ve ‘become a Christian’. Nowhere is that commanded in the Bible. I learned to help these new believers to obey the words Jesus says here, ‘tell them how much the Lord has done for you.’     

Acts 28:30-31 - For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ – with all boldness and without hindrance! 

For many of us in pioneering ministry the apostle Paul is a great role model. This verse is the very last thing we read about him in Acts. Towards the end of his life he’s welcoming people into his home and talking to them about two things: the kingdom of God, and Jesus.   

So for the past 25 years that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Talking to my Muslim friends and acquaintances about the kingdom of God and Jesus. The gospel unwrapped. 

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