On May 19, 2020, I sat down to read Ravi Zacharias’ latest book, Seeing Jesus from the East. On that particular morning, I was struck by a passage in the book that details the difference of hope in death that Christians hold from their non-Christian friends. Zacharias explains, “The story of the gospel is the story of eternal life. My life is unique and will endure eternally in God’s presence. I will never be ‘no more.’ I will never be lost because I will be with the One who saves me” (86).
On that same day in May, Zacharias went home to be with the Lord. As I was reading his description of God’s presence, he was experiencing that reality. He no longer has to write of heaven in the future tense. He is currently reveling in the beauty of the Lord that he longed to see.
Overview and intent
In Seeing Jesus from the East, Zacharias and Abdu Murray seek to help readers from a Western context see the gospel message and its implications for the believer through an Eastern lens. Both men hail from Eastern heritage and are able to draw out skillfully the differences between the Eastern and Western frame of thought. They do this by reminding the reader that Jesus himself was an Easterner and delving into his decidedly Eastern teaching style of storytelling. Yet, they do so in a way that promotes the gospel message as sweet to both the Westerner and the Easterner. In addition to that, the authors provide contextual insights that help Western readers understand the life-altering nature of Jesus’ call.
Ultimately, both authors voice their hope that by seeing Jesus through Eastern eyes, Western Christians will grow in their understanding of the gospel as well as their love for the Lord. In my case, that’s exactly what happened. What follows are three ways this book will challenge many Western Christians.
3 ways Westerners’ faith will be enriched
1. Learn to see the beauty of the gospel through the honor-shame framework.
In his chapter titled, “Honor, Shame, and Jesus,” Murray addresses some differences in the way that Easterners and Westerners hear the gospel message. He describes how, “Westerners tend to understand and present the gospel in terms of innocence and guilt . . . But honor and shame frame an equally accurate summary of the gospel” (102). As a Westerner, when I read these words and considered the gospel through the lens of honor and shame, I felt like it had given words to a part of my heart that I didn’t know how to express. I too have experienced the shame of my sin, but am so grateful to Jesus for bearing my shame on the cross and restoring me to the honor of communion with God through his resurrection.
The honor-shame framework will give language to many Westerners who intellectually understand the guilt-canceling power of Christ’s death on the cross but still struggle with spiritual depression or anxiety stemming from the lingering effects of shame from past sin. For hurting hearts, it’s wonderful to remember that “Through Christ, God casts our shame across an impassable distance,” (113). For all of us, Easterners and Westerners, there’s a newfound hope in the promise of Isaiah 49:23, “Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.”
2. Experience blessing by identifying with Jesus—especially when it costs you some comfort.
Not only can Westerners’ faith be stirred by learning about the Eastern thought framework, but also by looking to the model of Eastern faith. That’s what Murray and Zacharias highlight as they look to the future of faith in the Western world and write, “it is crucial for Western Christians to learn how Eastern and Middle Eastern Christians have (and are) enduring pain because of their faith. In fact, they aren’t just enduring it; they are flourishing because of it,” (117).
Christ promised that his church would experience suffering in this world, and it may be helpful to remember that suffering isn’t the inevitable fate of a world outside of God’s control; instead, it is the result of God’s good design and purpose. As the authors illustrate, “specific blessings are bestowed because of that suffering,” (119). When Christians suffer for Christ’s sake, we willingly take on the shame of the world, and in so doing, honor Christ by magnifying his name. To Murray’s point, this willingness to suffer is similar to the early disciples who “were so soaked in the honor of identifying with him that heaps of shame from the authorities resulted not in groans but in rejoicing,” (133).
3. Think biblically about current issues in the Western world by seeing Jesus with Eastern eyes.
One lesser known benefit of studying the historical context of Scripture is that it unlocks knowledge that helps the believer respond to present-day issues. This is certainly true for many of Jesus’ interactions. In the final chapter of the book, Murray helps the reader understand that seeing Jesus contextually (through Eastern eyes) improves believers’ ability to confront the myth that Christianity is merely a “Western religious tool used to oppress and suppress Easterners” by strengthening believers’ conviction to fight for racial equality and female dignity (208). It’s not difficult to recognize the immense need in the Western world for Christians to speak and act like our Eastern Savior on these two issues. Doing so will strengthen our Christian witness to a lost world.
For a world which seems to be hurting now more than ever, Seeing Jesus from the East provide timely insights that will comfort and encourage some, and challenge others. I’m hoping, like Abdu Murray and Ravi Zacharias, that the world will give Jesus “a fresh look”—this time, from the East.