What does it cost to accept Jesus? People ask this question in one form or another everyday. The answer usually given is that it costs us everything. But what does that mean?
In Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi with a foreword by Lee Strobel, we find a powerful answer to what “everything” means. This week’s study is based on an excerpt from this book.
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. – Mark 8:34–35
The Cost of Embracing the Cross
The cost for a Muslim to accept the gospel can be tremendous. Of course, following Jesus meant that I would immediately be ostracized from my community. For all devout Muslims, it means sacrificing the friendships and social connections that they have built from childhood. It could mean being rejected by one’s parents, siblings, spouse, and children.
This becomes exponentially more difficult if the Muslim has no person to turn to after following Jesus, no Christian who has reached out. I know of many Muslim women who recognize their need for Jesus but have nowhere to turn if their husbands abandon them, or worse. They often do not have the financial means to survive the next day, let alone fight for their children in court. They would have to do all this while reeling from an emotionally violent expulsion from their extended families.
What many do not realize – what I did not realize when I was making these decisions – is that these costs are not considered consciously. They form part of the knee-jerk reaction against the Gospel.
I never said, “I choose to remain Muslim because it would cost my family if I were to follow Jesus.” Far from it, I subconsciously found ways and means to go on rejecting the Gospel so I would not be faced with what I would have to pay.
But I was not the only one who would have to pay for my decision. If there were traits my family was known for in the Muslim community, they were my parents’ joyfulness, our close-knit relationships, and the honor we had garnered by faithfully following Islam. My choice to follow Jesus meant razing all three. My decision would shame my family with incredible dishonor. Even if I were right about Jesus, could I do such a terrible thing to my family? After everything they had done for me?
It is this kind of familial dishonor that drives many in the Middle East to commit honor killings. Although there is no command in the Quran or hadith to carry out “honor killings,” there are commands in the Quran to kill mischief makers, [5:33] as well as plenty of commands in the hadith to kill apostates [e.g., Sahih Bukhari 9.84.57-58, 64, 72].
These kinds of killings are not limited to the Middle East. A few months after graduation, I received a phone call from Mike telling me about an entire family of Middle Eastern Christians who had just been slaughtered in New Jersey for bringing dishonor to Islam. He asked me if I thought I’d be safe were I to accept Jesus. I appreciated his concern, but I told him that was the least of my worries. My family would never do such a thing, and in reality, the killings are not as common as some fear. Besides, in my view, martyrdom would be an honor.
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My Greatest Concern
The greatest concern for me, were I to accept Jesus as Lord, was that I might be wrong. What if Jesus is not God? I’d be worshiping a human. That would incur the wrath of Allah, and more than anything else, it would secure my abode in hell. Of course, that is exactly what the Quran teaches. In Islam, there is only one unforgivable sin – shirk, the belief that someone other than Allah is God. Shirk is specifically discussed in the context of Jesus in 5:72. He who believes Jesus is God, “Allah has forbidden Heaven for him, and his abode will be the Hellfire.”
These are the costs Muslims must calculate when considering the gospel: losing the relationships they have built in this life, potentially losing this life itself, and if they are wrong, losing their afterlife in paradise. It is no understatement to say that Muslims often risk everything to embrace the cross.
But then again, it is the cross. There is a reason Jesus said,
Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me and for the Gospel will save it. – Mark 8:34–35
Would it be worth it to pick up my cross and be crucified next to Jesus? If He is not God, then, no. Lose everything I love to worship a false God? A million times over, no!
But if He is God, then, yes. Being forever bonded to my Lord by suffering alongside Him? A million times over, yes! Now more than ever, the stakes were clear, and I needed to know who He was. Everything hinged on His identity. I began begging Him to reveal Himself. Standing, walking, praying, lying in bed, I implored Him to show me His truth. Because [He had] guided me before, I had full faith that He would guide me once again. But the interim was agonizing. I traveled from mosque to mosque, asking imams and scholars to help me with my struggles. None came close to vindicating either Muhammad or the Quran, all of them selectively denying traditions that were problematic and cherry-picking traditions that fit their views. They did not help.
While waiting to speak with them, I read book after book from Muslim scholars on hadith methodology, sirah, and Quranic history until my eyes were scorched. Then my eyes would flood with tears during [prayer], while I pleaded with God for His mercy.
“Whoever Loses Their Life for My Sake Will Find It.”
Just after midnight one evening… I found these words in Matthew 10:32–33
Whoever acknowledges Me before others, I will also acknowledge before My Father in heaven. But whoever disowns Me before others, I will disown before My Father in heaven.
My heart sank. I had not even acknowledged Jesus to Jesus, let alone to others. But to acknowledge Him meant destroying my family. Could He really charge me to do such a thing?
As if the living Word of the Bible were in conversation with me, Jesus began responding to my heart, verse by verse.
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.
But how could this be? How could Jesus turn me against [my parents] Ammi and Abba? They are such wonderful people. Why would God do such a thing?
Jesus answered in the next verse:
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.
It was not that Jesus was turning me against my parents. It was that, if my family stood against God, I had to choose one or the other. God is obviously best, even if that caused me to turn against my family. But how? How could I bear the pain?
He assured me that inconceivable pain and social rejection is part of the Christian walk: “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” To be a Christian means suffering real pain for the sake of God. Not as a Muslim would suffer for God, because Allah so commands him by fiat, but as the heartfelt expression of a grateful child whose God first suffered for him.
“Nabeel, my child,” I felt Him say, “whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for My sake will find it.” I had to give up my life in order to receive His life. This was not some platitude or cliché. The gospel was calling me to die…
I was a crumpled heap on the ground, trembling before God. Two weeks after accepting my Lord, I tried to plead with Him, while wailing and stammering through quivering lips.
Though [my father] did not say much, what he did say has haunted me ever since. The man who stood tallest in my life, my archetype of strength, my father, spoke these words through palpable pain: “Nabeel, this day, I feel as if my backbone has been ripped out from inside me.” The words tore through me. It felt like patricide. I had not given up just my life to follow Jesus, I was killing my father. He has never stood as tall since that day. I extinguished his pride.
[My mother] had even fewer words… but her eyes said more. “You are my only son… Why have you betrayed me?”
Her eyes seared my soul and remain branded in my memory. They were the final image I saw before [my father ushered my mother] out of my apartment and to the hospital across the street. None of us were sure she would make it through the night. She survived, but her eyes have never been as bright since that day. I extinguished their light.
Decimated before God, eyes pouring, nose and mouth unable to withhold the grief, I was finally able to sputter my question through tears:
“Why didn’t You kill me?” I pleaded with God, full of despair because it was too late. “It would have been better if You had killed me the moment I believed so my family would never have had to taste betrayal. This is far worse for them than my death would have been. At least our love would have lived on. At least our family would have always been one.
At that moment, the most agonizing moment of my life, something happened that was beyond my theology and imagination. As if God picked up a megaphone and spoke through my conscience, I heard these words resonate through my very being:
“Because this is not about you.”
I froze with my mouth agape. The tears, the sobs, the shaking – everything stopped. I was rooted to the ground, as if electricity had just shot through me and paralyzed me. For about ten minutes, I sat, unable to move, unable to close my mouth even. He was rebooting me.
“Go and Love One Another…”
When I was able to move, I felt no sorrow, none whatsoever. It was as if my prayers of anguish and self-pity had been words uttered in a previous life. Rising from the ground and walking out of the apartment, I gazed at everything intently – the trees, the sky, even the stairs I stood upon.
Yet again, I was seeing the potential of the world in a new light. I had been wearing colored glasses my entire life, and they had been taken off. Everything looked different, and I wanted to examine it all more carefully.
Then I saw something that I had seen countless times before: a man walking down the sidewalk toward the medical school. But that was not all I saw. Though I had no idea who this man was, I knew he had a dramatic story, replete with personal struggles, broken relationships, and splintered self-worth. Taught by the world that he was an outcome of blind evolution, he subconsciously valued himself as exactly that: a byproduct of random chance, with no purpose, no hope, no meaning except what pleasures he could extract out of the day. Chasing these pleasures resulted in guilt and pain, which caused him to chase more pleasures, which led to more guilt and more pain. Burying it all just beneath the surface, he went about his day with no clue how to break the cycle, how to find true hope.
What I saw was a man who needed to know that God could rescue him, that God had rescued him. This man needed to know about God and His power.
Did he know?
Did he know that God loved him from the foundations of the earth? With a power far exceeding the immensity of the cosmos, He turned all His attention to creating that man and declared, “You are My child. I love you.”
Did he know that God made him exactly how He wanted, knowing each hair on his head and each second of his life? God knew full well that the hands He gave to this man would be used to sin against Him, that the feet He gave to this man would be used to walk away from Him. Yet, instead of withholding these gifts, He gave him the most precious gift of all: His own Son.
Did he know that God entered into this world for him, to suffer in his stead? Received with slaps and fists by the very people He came to save, He was scourged until His skin fell off in ribbons, only to be pierced through both arms and feet, nailed naked on wood for all to ridicule. He scraped His skinless back on splintered wood with each rasping breath, His last breath finishing the task of rescuing us, of securing our eternity with Him.
Did he know?
Of course not. We have to tell him.
While I was wallowing in self-pity, focused on myself, there was a whole world with literally billions of people who had no idea who God is, how amazing He is, and the wonders He has done for us. They are the ones who are really suffering. They don’t know His hope, His peace, and His love that transcends all understanding. They don’t know the message of the gospel.
After loving us with the most humble life and the most horrific death, Jesus told us, “As I have loved you, go and love one another.” How could I consider myself a follower of Jesus if I was not willing to live as He lived? To die as He died? To love the unloved and give hope to the hopeless?
This is not about me. It is about Him and His love for His children.
Now I knew what it meant to follow God. It meant walking boldly by His Spirit of grace and love, in the firm confidence of everlasting life given through the Son, with the eternal purpose of proclaiming and glorifying the Father.
Now I had found Jesus.
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What had the biggest impact on you from this video?