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Celebrating the Word of God

Updated: Mar 18


Divine revelation is celebrated by Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the holidays of each faith. For Jews, the Festival of Weeks (Shavuot),[1] on June 11th this year, commemorates when God began to reveal the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai after the Exodus from Egypt. Observant Jews wear white, gather in synagogues, study the 10 commandments, have festive meals with their children, light candles, and stay up for a “night of learning” and reading the book of Ruth. Psalm 119:97-105 expresses their appreciation for the Word of God: “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. … Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”


Muslims follow the injunction in the Quran (2:185), saying, “Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed as a guide for humanity with clear proofs of guidance and the decisive authority. So, whoever is present this month, let them fast.” In 2024, Ramadan occurs from the evening of March 10th to April 9th. Islamic fasting (sawm) involves rearranging one’s schedule during the 30 days of the month to abstain from food, drink, tobacco, sex, and other things from sunrise to sunset. This fast is more difficult when Ramadan occurs during the hot summer season.[2] Nonetheless, not observing the fast is a punishable crime in some Muslim countries.


Muslims eat a pre-fast meal (suhoor) before dawn and recite their first of five daily ritual prayers (Fajr). Then, at sunset, families break the fast (iftar) by eating three dates and reciting their fourth ritual prayer (Maghrib) before enjoying social gatherings with sumptuous food and rich desserts that can even lead to weight gain during the month. Nightly iftar banquets often serve hundreds of people, and large mosques in the Middle East regularly accommodate thousands of guests.


Fasting (sawm) during Ramadan is one of five main “pillars” of Islam, along with making a profession of faith (shahada), ritual prayers (salat), almsgiving (zakat), and making at least one pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj). Ramadan also includes extra prayers, personal reflection, and heightened devotion and worship. Muslims are expected to cleanse their soul through self-discipline and sacrifice and to feel more empathy for the less fortunate. 

Islam teaches that good deeds during Ramadan will be rewarded more bountifully. As a result, Muslims often donate most or all of their alms (zakat) at this time. Muslims are also encouraged to read the entire Quran during Ramadan, by covering 20 pages per night.


There are even Islamic claims that the gates of Paradise open during Ramadan, while the gates of Hell are locked up. Despite all this, Ramadan is actually not one of the four sacred months ordained for Muslims by Allah.[3] Islam acknowledges that fasting was practiced long before the time of Muhammad, and some scholars find things that Muslims do during Ramadan in the Lenten practices of ancient Christian churches in Syria, which preceded them.[4] 


Christians, however, have an entirely different view toward celebrating divine revelation. Although they deeply respect the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, their holidays center around the living Word of God. John 1:14-18 describes the Living Word—Jesus, as follows:

 

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth … For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known (emphasis added).

 

The observance of Lent, for 40 days before Easter, is a season of “bright sadness” practiced in many of the more traditional churches.[5] Lent helps prepare people to celebrate Easter with appreciation for all that Christ suffered to redeem us. This year, Lent began with Ash Wednesday, on February 18th, using a biblical sign of repentance, and involves 40 days of fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and self-denial, together with scriptural reflections on the life of Christ. It recounts the 40 days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness that Jesus endured at the start of His ministry (Matthew 4:1-2).


This leads to the commemoration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a foal (Palm Sunday, March 24th) and the momentous events during the last week before His sacrifice on the cross. These events include Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and the Last Supper (Maundy Thursday, March 28th) and His crucifixion (Good Friday, March 29th). His releasing of captives from Hades while His body lay in the tomb (Ephesians 4:7-10) is memorialized next (Holy Saturday, March 30th), followed, at last, by the resurrection on Easter Sunday (March 31st). Easter vibrantly celebrates the resurrection of our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ and His triumph over sin and death.


Pentecost Sunday comes 50 days later, on May 19th, celebrating the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1-5) that was given after Jesus’ ascension to heaven, in which the Church was supernaturally empowered to fulfill the Great Commission that He gave to make more disciples throughout the world until He returns (Matthew 28:16-20)!


Jesus told Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). This is where things get interesting. Islam rejects the written Word of God in the Bible, denies Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, demotes Him from the Word of God (John 1:1-14) to merely a word from Allah, and even quotes Jesus as repudiating His own divinity (Quran 4:171, 5:116, 39:4)! The Quran assures Muslims that “it was not the devils who brought this Quran down” (Quran 26:210), which sets the stage for intense spiritual conflict. We will discuss this in our next blog, “Night of Power Encounter,” to help us understand the challenge we face as we seek to help our Muslim friends come to know the real Lord Jesus Christ who says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).


[1] See Leviticus 23:15-21

[2] Islam uses an uncorrected lunar calendar instead of the familiar solar calendar, which causes its months to cycle through all the seasons every 33 years.

[3] The four sacred months ordained by Allah are Dhu al-Qadah, Dhu al-Hijjah, Muharram, and Rajab, per Sahih Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Hadith 184 and the Quran 2:197, 217; 5:2, 9:2-5, 36-37. Ramadan is considered blessed as part of a group of months together with the months of Rajab and Shaban.

[4] For example, see Philip Jenkins, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South, (Oxford University Press, 2006), 182; Paul-Gordon Chandler, Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road: Exploring a New Path Between Two Faiths (Cowley Publications, 2008), 88.

[5] Lent is observed by Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Moravians, United Protestants, and Orthodox churches, as well as by some Baptists, Methodists, Reformed churches, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and others.

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