God requires a sacrifice that will be the death of us—but he has provided the life that saves us.
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I first got to know my friend Muhammed in the summer of 2001. I'd stop at the Mobil station near our house on Sunday mornings to get a cup of coffee. Muhammed had just started working there behind the counter. He was about my age, a native of India, and a civil engineer by training. He and his wife had four children. His eldest son, Abrar, worked at the station sometimes, so I got to know him as well.
On the Sunday after 9/11, Muhammed was devastated. He also worked as a security guard at a bank, and he wanted to tell his co-workers how terrible he felt about what had happened. But he wasn't sure how to say it. So he asked me. I wrote out a statement for my Muslim friend explaining his feelings. It was a strange experience.
Sometime later, I helped Abrar with a paper he was writing for his high school class about what it meant to be a Muslim. He just needed me to help him clean up his English a bit. But in that paper, I learned that Muslims have the same story we have about Abraham's great sacrifice: only for them, Abraham sacrifices Ishmael, who gladly prepares to give his life.
A week or two later, when I was standing and chatting at Muhammed's counter, I mentioned that story. I told him that Jews and Christians had the same story, only with Isaac as the sacrificed son. But when I told him that Christians saw in that story a kind of prophecy of the death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in our place, well, Muhammed was speechless. Silent. He'd never heard anything like that before.
I realized in that moment what an enormous step it is for people to grasp the workings of our salvation. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:18, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being ...