The Path of the Righteous
by Roland Clarke
The prophet Daniel said, "Those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars for ever." (Daniel 12:3) Similarly, Proverbs 4:18 says "the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day." (NIV) This means that the righteous person's journey does not end in darkness and death which is exactly what Proverbs 12:28 says, "In the way of righteousness there is life; along that path is immortality." (NIV)
The prophet Isaiah provides a clue to understanding this. He foretells a day when death will be destroyed – a day of salvation when God will wipe away tears. (Isaiah 25:6-9)
In Jerusalem,[Mt Zion] the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world. It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat. There he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears. He will remove forever all insults and mockery against his land and people. The Lord has spoken!
In that day the people will proclaim, "This is our God! We trusted in him, and he saved us! This is the Lord, in whom we trusted. Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!"
It is not easy to understand exactly how this will happen, however, when we read Isaiah 49:6 we realize that it probably has something to do with a special "servant" commissioned by God to bring his light and salvation to the ends of the earth. As it is written, "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob ... I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth." You may wonder why light and salvation are so closely related. This will become clearer as we explore the Messiah's far reaching task of seeing "God's salvation reach to the ends of the earth."
The psalmist David [Daood] praised God for powerfully saving him from attacking bears, lions and even from Goliath. (1 Samuel 17:37,40-51) In fact, he testified that God rescues us from death itself; "Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms. (Interlude) Our God is a God who saves! The Sovereign Lord rescues us from death." (Psalm 68:19-20)
Not only so, the prophets Jonah and Moses also praised God for his saving power. (Jonah 2:6-9; Exodus 18:8-11; 20:2-3; cf. Surah 21:87-88; 2:50)
God's Messiah brings his salvation
When the Messiah finally arrived hundreds of years later, God displayed his saving power even more clearly. Beginning with Christ's miraculous birth we see that God made sure his "power to save" was imprinted on the virgin born son of Mary by a special name given through his angel – the name Yeshua/Jesus meaning "God is salvation." This name given through an angel is not only taught in the Bible but also in the Qur'an. (Matthew 1:21; Surah 3:45) Notice, a highly esteemed conservative Mufti from Pakistan agrees that the name Isa/Jesus means "God is salvation." (p. 70, Islamic Names, expanded & revised edition, Muhammad I. A. Usman)
If the Messiah’s mission was to save people, we expect him to accomplish this especially as he grew and became a man. Christians and Muslims know very well how Jesus performed miracles which involved healing people and even saving lives. Notice: he didn’t just cure mild ailments, he healed people who were critically and terminally ill. (Matthew 11:5; Surah 5.113)
Jesus performed even more spectacular miracles, for example, raising the dead to life. These people were also saved. But it did not stop there.
Jesus also saved people whose lives had been devastated and ruined by sin. The angel Gabriel explained why God chose the name Jesus; "you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)
Luke 19 is a wonderful example of this. A notorious sinner named Zacchaeus was dramatically transformed by his encounter with Jesus. What a joyful day that was! The final words of this story show that the Messiah was very much aware of the meaning of his name and what was God’s purpose for his life. "Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost." (Luke 19:9,10)
Zacchaeus was not the only sinner who heard such comforting words of forgiveness. The thief who was crucified next to Jesus confessed his guilt and asked, "Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom." And Jesus replied, "I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:42,43) The similarity between the two stories is unmistakable: Jesus told the one man, "Salvation has come today". To the other man he said, "today you will be with me in paradise." Both men felt deeply comforted by these words. (See similar examples in Luke 7:36-50; Matthew 21:28-32; and Mark 2:5-9) All of these show how Jesus lived up to the meaning of his name, i.e. saving people from their sins.
As we continue looking closely at the life of such a pure and powerful person as Jesus Christ, it comes as no surprise to see that he had a radical impact on sinners. Not only did he forgive them, their lives were changed and transformed. I hope you will take the time to read the stories cited in Luke 7, Matthew 21 and Mark 2. You will see they have an undeniable ring of truth.
Both the Bible and the Qur'an teach that Jesus brought the light and truth of God, as did the earlier prophets. (Luke 2:32; Surah 5:44-46) We read in the Injil (Gospel) how Jesus said, "John [Yahya] was a lamp that burned and gave light ..." However, Jesus went on to clarify that the light he brought was greater, "I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me." (John 5:35-36, NIV)
Not only so, John freely admitted Jesus is greater than himself. When many of the Jews asked John whether he was the Messiah he answered them, "I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." Furthermore, when Jesus asked John to baptize him, "John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"
Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented." (Matthew 3:14-15, NIV)
Whereas Jesus acknowledged that John the Baptist shone "like a lamp," the apostle Peter recognized the prophets were "like a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." (2 Peter 1:19, bold added for emphasis)
Notice Scripture does not describe Jesus as a "lamp" but rather as "the morning star.1" This implies his light is different and special. We already saw a glimpse of Christ's surpassing greatness from John the Baptist. Now we will examine four more ways showing how Jesus brought a greater light than the other prophets.
1) The Messiah brought a "great" light but the other prophets are never described in this way. (Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:13-16)
2) Unlike other prophets whose light was limited to a particular country or region, the Messiah's light shone to the whole world. (Isaiah 49:6; Luke 2:28-32; John 1:1-5; 8:12; 12:46-47)
3) Jesus radiated pure light which was not dimmed by any impurity. Both the Bible and the Qur'an teach the sinlessness of Jesus Christ. (John 5:30; 8:29,46; 1 Peter 2:22; Surah 19:19)
However, the other prophets were not sinless or perfectly righteous. As it is written, "Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins." (Ecclesiastes 7:20) The Qur'an also confirms this as seen in Adam and Jonah, two prophets who clearly disobeyed God's instruction. The Hadith also agrees where it says "Every son of Adam is a sinner and the best of sinners are those who repent constantly."
4) We have already seen how Isaiah foretold the great thing God planned to do through his Messiah, that is, bringing light and salvation to the world. However, it is important that we take a few moments to consider why light and salvation are so closely linked in Scripture.
Light and salvation
While exploring the path of righteousness, we have learned that salvation has a lot do with saving life. This helps us better understand the two thought provoking Proverbs we read earlier which imply that light and immortality are closely related. In case you are unfamiliar with the term immortality, please note that it basically means eternal life.
In keeping with Isaiah's prophecy Jesus described the task he was commissioned to do in terms of seeking to save the lost. (Luke 19:10) Notice, however, Jesus also described the work God called him to do in terms of raising the dead and giving eternal life. For example, Jesus says in John 17:3:
And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. (John 4:7-14; cf. 5:24-30)
If you paid careful attention when we read Isaiah 25:6-9 you would recall that this prophecy specifies where death will be defeated and destroyed – Mt Zion, that is, Jerusalem. Keeping this in mind, let us read a similar prophecy by Jesus Christ as recorded in Luke 18:31-33:
Taking the twelve disciples aside, Jesus said, "Listen, we’re going up to Jerusalem, where all the predictions of the prophets concerning the Son of Man will come true. He will be handed over to the Romans, and he will be mocked, treated shamefully, and spit upon. They will flog him with a whip and kill him, but on the third day he will rise again."
Think about it: Jesus predicts he will rise dramatically from the dead in Jerusalem – the very place where Isaiah foretold God would destroy death! Do you agree this fulfills what Isaiah prophesied?
Another Scripture that confirms this astonishing feat declares,
God ... has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News." (2 Timothy 1:10, bold font added for emphasis)
Note: the highlighted word "illuminated" is rendered in other translations "bring to light." This calls to mind the twin Proverbs in which light correlates closely with immortality.
Furthermore, in keeping with the Messiah's victorious triumph over the enemy of death, Jesus declared, "I have the keys of death and the grave." (Revelation 1:17-18) This word picture (metaphor) means he has the authority to unlock the chains that hold mankind in slavery to the fear of death! As it is written,
Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
God's Word also declares,
And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. For the Scriptures say, "God has put all things under his authority." (Of course, when it says "all things are under his authority," that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) 1 Corinthians 16:26
Here are a few articles that further explore several key themes mentioned to this article such as light salvation and immortality. The article titled, Lighting up the darkness, is available online here. The article titled, Signposts to Paradise, is available here. A longer article titled, Timeless truth encrypted in ancient wisdom, is available here.
1) The title "morning star" calls to mind three prophecies indicating the Messiah is not merely a prophet. He will reign as the king over a restored Davidic dynasty, indeed, he "shall be great to the ends of the earth." (Numbers 24:15-17; Micah 5:2-5; Matthew 2:1-11) If you want to read a fuller discussion of these prophecies check the online article, Following the star.
All Bible quotes are taken from the New Living Translation unless otherwise indicated.
Appendix: The Gospel (Injil) of Jesus, rightly understood, upholds righteousness
Some Christians downplay the importance of being godly and righteous perhaps because we want to avoid giving our unbelieving friends the false impression that they must attain a certain level of good behaviour in order to be saved. Of course, we want to make it clear: salvation is a gift. One cannot earn salvation by trying to accumulate enough good deeds or keeping the law better. (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 6:23)
We must, however, bear in mind that true repentance and faith bears fruit in terms of character and behaviour. Genuine followers of Christ express their inner heart belief in outward, visible ways. Jesus Christ made this very clear when he said,
Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. (Matthew 7:15-20)
Jesus continues by explaining how this principle applies on judgment day. He says, "only those who actually do the will of my Father ... will enter the Kingdom of Heaven." This emphasis on doing good and turning away from evil is seen in another passage pertaining to the final judgment.
Jesus said in John 5:28-30,
The time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment. I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.
Another Scripture where God judges people based on what they have done is Romans 2:5-11:
For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will judge everyone according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on doing what is evil—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile.
A superficial reading of all these passages may seem inconsistent with what the Bible says about simply believing in Christ and receiving his imputed righteousness as a gift (see Romans 3:20-21; 6:23 and 2 Cor. 5:21).
How then shall we resolve this dilemma?
First: notice the word "give" in verse 6. Eternal life is not earned, it is something God gives. Another key to help unlock this dilemma is John 6:28-29 where Jesus was having a long discussion with the Jews.
They replied, "We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?" Jesus told them, "This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent." (John 6:28-29, bold added for emphasis)
John 5 and Romans 2 are not the only Scriptures that appear to teach doing good as a way to achieve eternal life. Another passage is Mark 10:17-31 which recounts the story of the rich ruler.
17 As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
18 "Why do you call me good?" Jesus asked. "Only God is truly good. 19 But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’"
20 "Teacher," the man replied, "I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young."
21 Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. "There is still one thing you haven’t done," he told him. "Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." ... 29 "I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, 30 will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life."
Like the earlier Scripture passages this one seems to endorse the misguided opinion of the Jewish religious teachers that salvation can be achieved by keeping the law. What they failed to acknowledge was that in order to attain eternal life according to the Old Testament one had to be perfectly righteous, i.e. keep the law perfectly. (James 2:10; cf. Galatians 3:10; Deuteronomy 27:26)
Jesus begins to answer the man's question in verse 19 by quoting from the Ten Commandments. Jesus gives a hint in verse 21 towards the answer by telling the rich man, "follow me." However, it is not until verse 30 that he explains in detail what this means.
You may wonder, "Why does God include so many seemingly ambiguous passages in his Word? Not only are they difficult to understand, they can easily be misconstrued.
I believe part of the reason is: God wants us to earnestly seek him. Earlier we read in Romans 2:6 that God gives eternal life to those who "seek after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers." Likewise, the prophet Jeremiah encouraged people, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13, NIV)
Another reason why certain Scripture passages are hard to understand is that there are seemingly divergent truths in the Bible that are not easy to comprehend. We need to humbly uphold both truths, keeping them in tension, so to speak. One example is the difficult teaching about Divine election, wrath, patience and mercy of God as found in Romans 9:14-33.
Christians may not like reading these difficult passages to their Muslim friends, hoping not to confuse them. However, we must not "shrink from declaring ... the whole counsel of God." (Acts 20:26-27, ESV)
Here are some additional reasons why we should include difficult passages (like those mentioned above) when sharing the Good News with our Muslim friends.
a) Proverbs are an appropriate way to start conversations and open doors for sharing the Gospel. By their very nature they evoke curiosity and stimulate one to think deeper. Furthermore, the topics highlighted in Proverbs 4:12; 12:28 (as listed below) have an intuitive appeal, an undeniable ring of truth.
* Islamically, "the path of righteousness" calls to mind the Fatiha, the first Surah of the Qur'an, which is recited daily by most Muslims.
* "Light" has universal appeal, as Solomon wisely observed, "Light is sweet; how pleasant to see a new day dawning [i.e. the sun, as in most other translations]." (Ecclesiastes 11:7) Is it coincidental that the prophet Malachi takes up this fascinating imagery portraying the Messiah as the Sun of Righteousness? (Malachi 4:2)
* What about the timeless human quest for "immortality"? King Solomon, who Muslims call Sulaiman Hakim, highlighted this in his wise sayings, as recorded in Ecclesiastes 3:11, "God has planted eternity in the human heart."
b) As I have shown many of the Scriptures in this article to my Muslim friends I've noticed their curiosity is aroused. Furthermore, I've seen several friends gain a deeper respect and hunger to read more of God's Word.
c) There is wisdom in using an approach that "unfolds" the Word of God sequentially beginning with foundational OT teaching. (Psalm 119:130)
Appendix: Meditation on light
David Foster has given permission to append several verses compiled from the Qur'an and the Bible. I trust this Meditation on light will spark meaningful spiritual conversations between Muslims and Christians. It is taken from his article, Interfaith Dialog on Light, which will soon be available online.
"God is the Light of the heavens and the earth." (Surah 24:35) In fact, this is "one of the most famous and often recited verses of the Qur'an," according to The Study Qur'an, a compilation by five esteemed scholars. This idea is not unlike what Jesus said in 1 John 1:5, "God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all." (1 John 1:5) This in turn, confirms the teaching of earlier prophets, "No longer will you need the sun to shine by day, nor the moon to give its light by night, for the Lord your God will be your everlasting light." (Isaiah 60:19) Centuries later the apostle John spoke of the restoration of all things, envisioning "a new heaven and a new earth ... God’s home is now among his people! ... He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. ... his servants will worship him. And they will see his face ... And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever." (Revelation 21:1-4; 22:5)