What to know Many of our Muslim friends, while having never heard or seen a page of the Bible, have heard of the last six words that Jesus spoke in John 14:28: "You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I." (emphasis added). To Muslims, this is a critical announcement that aligns with the Islamic concept of monotheism, known as Tawheed: God is "One and Single." Before we continue further, notice that Christian monotheism is not understood. That is: Muslims believe that the Trinity is belief in three "gods." Many are taught that Christians worship God, Jesus, and Mary. Before you try to talk about this topic further, it can be highly significant to make sure your friend knows that monotheism is a Biblical belief, foundational to following Jesus. Then we can move forward into the question of "How can 'less than' mean 'equal to'?" What to say
Read Mark 12:28-31 together.
Jesus taught that God is One, and all followers of Jesus believe the same. Pause to establish this truth. Next, try to articulate it carefully: In light of this before...why do we believe that Jesus is God? And how do we process that belief within the Truth-statement that God is "greater than" Jesus?
Read John 14 together to see the verse in its full context.
What words of Jesus stand out to you in this passage?
What words did Jesus use to express that He is One (the same in being) with God? Pause to return to the original question...If this is true, how is it simultaneously true that the Father is greater? (If Jesus is the same as God, why did he say this?)
Read Philippians 5:2-11, emphasis on verse 7-8.
What does it mean that God "emptied himself" when he took the form of a servant? What did God empty himself of?
What privileges of being God did Jesus willingly give up? (Listen as your friend considers and answers. If they want to read more of the account of Jesus in order to answer, look at his life as recorded in the book of John. Then return to the question.)
In what ways was Jesus "fully man" (fully experiencing the weight of being a human) while on earth?
Read Hebrews 2:14-18 and continue until the end of Hebrews 4 (emphasis on verses 14-16).
Why is it significant that Jesus took on the experience of "suffering temptation"?
In what ways was Jesus, having emptied himself, dependent on God the Father while on earth?
In what ways did Jesus express that dependence? (If your friend doesn't say it, notice also that Jesus prayed to God the Father.)
Read Matthew 26 and Luke 22 together.
Before undergoing false accusation, physical torture, degradation, humiliation, and a painful death, Jesus -- who knew what lie before him -- poured out his heart to God. His anguish was so great that he "sweat great drops of blood." Yet during that prayer, he spoke the startling words, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done."
The image we see of Jesus is absolute submission. While about to undergo the pain of becoming the Adha sacrifice, his desire was for the will of God to be done. He placed his own emotional and physical desires beneath the perfect and sovereign will of God. While still equal in essence and being, He showed what it means for the Father to be greater. The Father was in authority -- not emptied of anything at all; not weakened in any form; unable to even be tempted (James 1:13) -- and so his will was the highest desire of Jesus.
End with discussing how the terms the holy Injil gives us for the monotheism of God - Son, Father, and Holy Spirit - speak of a relationship of authority and submission, and ongoing presence in and among us today.
Jesus provided for us the perfect example of submission to God's will, and relationship to God the Father. But he was more than an example. He experienced what it is to be a human, and accepted a weakened form. God is able to exist as the Father in Heaven and the Son of earth (and even dying on the cross) because He is all-powerful. He is One -- but he is One in a way that is much greater than what our human minds had imagined.
Read 1 Corinthians 2:8-10 together, and pray for God to reveal by his Spirit was is true.