Thursday, August 24, 2017

Eid al-Adha: Get to the Gospel with Ishmael, Isaac, and the Ultimate Sacrifice

It was as if I had found a portal back to Old Testament times. Standing next to my friend Salim,* I watched as thousands gathered for prayer in a house of worship. The religious leader stood at a loudspeaker and declared the greatness of God, then guided worshipers through the festival practices. It seemed like a present-day example of the celebrations and rituals prescribed to the early nation of Israel.

After observing their worship, I joined Salim in his home, where his family sacrificed multiple goats. I watched as blood spilled forth from the animals, and I thought of the animals sacrificed on altars during old covenant times. My hosts voiced remembrances of the one willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, but instead of praising Jesus, they exalted Abraham. And instead of Isaac as the one to be sacrificed, it was Ishmael.

Same Characters, Different Story

The festival was Eid al-Adha, which means “the Feast of Sacrifice.” Muslims derive this celebration from the Qur’an’s account of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. Although the passage does not mention the name of the son Allah instructed Abraham to sacrifice, Muslims believe it was Ishmael, not Isaac, whom Abraham took up the mountain. Muslims commemorate the obedience of Abraham by killing an unblemished animal, typically a goat, lamb, or cow. The meat from the animal is then divided into three parts and given to family, friends, and the poor, respectively.

Muslims also believe that Satan tempted Abraham and his family to disobey Allah’s command, but Abraham drove Satan away by throwing stones at him. Muslims who journey to Mecca to complete Hajj during this festival throw stones at pillars to symbolize Abraham’s stoning of Satan.

These stories differ from the biblical account in Genesis 22:1–19, where God clearly states that Isaac is the son be to sacrificed. What’s more, the Qur’anic version fails to point to the promised Son God would later sacrifice for us all: Jesus.

Illustrations by Bryson Holtson

How to Share with Muslims during Eid al-Adha

Irreconcilable differences exist between the Christian faith and Islam. However, a few common beliefs can open doors for Christians to share the gospel with Muslims. Eid al-Adha is one such opportunity, and here’s where you can start:

Common Ground

Christianity and Islam both accept Abraham as a faithful follower of the one true Creator God. During Eid al-Adha, the faith and actions of Abraham are a focal point of Islamic life. Christians can join the conversation about Abraham’s faith to shed light on the biblical truth God intended: the story of Abraham and Isaac ultimately points to Jesus as the sinless Lamb of God slain for sinful man.

Our Need for Atonement

Muslims do not believe God requires a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. But let’s look at the offering the Lord commanded Abraham to make. In the biblical account of this story, God’s expectation of a burnt offering is referenced five times (Gen. 22:3, 6, 7, 8, 13). Leviticus 1:3–17 teaches that the burnt offering was the presentation of an unblemished animal to be completely consumed on the altar for the atonement of sin. “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have appointed it to you to make atonement on the altar for your lives, since it is the lifeblood that makes atonement” (Lev. 17:11 HCSB, emphasis added).

“The story of Abraham and Isaac ultimately points to Jesus as the sinless Lamb of God slain for sinful man.”

From this we can understand that the Lord not only requires a blood sacrifice for the atonement of sin, he also provides the required sacrifice himself. This is reflected in Abraham’s story since it was the Lord himself who provided the ram to be substituted for Isaac and sacrificed.

The Final Sacrifice

After sharing the biblical story of Abraham and drawing attention to the points above, Christians can transition to the gospel. The story of Abraham and Isaac foreshadows the person and work of Christ. Just as the Lord required and provided a blood sacrifice in the place of Isaac, so he requires and provides a blood sacrifice for all people through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus.

Only the blood of Jesus—God in the flesh—can bring atonement for sin (Heb. 10:1–10). Isaac was, in one aspect, brought from the dead through the substitution of the ram provided by God (Heb. 11:17–19). Likewise, all who place faith in Christ as risen Lord and God will also be rescued from eternal death (Rom. 10:9–10). Jesus was and is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29 HCSB). Let us pray that Christ-followers will boldly proclaim the true, ultimate sacrifice of Christ during the Eid al-Adha season.

Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha on the tenth day of the Islamic month Dhu al-Hijjah. In 2017 the tenth day falls on September 1.

*Name changed


Ralph Adair serves with his wife, son, and three daughters in South Asia. Their heart is that all South Asian peoples come to saving faith in Jesus. Ralph has a master of divinity degree and a PhD in missions from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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