"The Passion of The Christ" -- A View from the Sticks!

"The Passion of The Christ"
A View from the Sticks!

"Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father."

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?"

So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.

Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you." Now when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Then Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you."

John 10:17,18; Matthew 27:46; John 19:30; John 20:19-21 NKJV

Has there ever been a film which has sparked such discussion and controversy as Mel Gibson's "The Passion of The Christ?" From the beginning when it became known as to what Gibson was attempting to do, salvos of criticism and scorn were fired in his direction.

Finally the film was completed and a number of screenings were held for selected groups of persons. Their reactions and comments were highly publicized. The controversy continued with an emphasis on the issue of possibly a new wave of anti-Semitism would erupt due to the way the Jews were portrayed in regard to Jesus' trial and crucifixion.

On Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2004, the film was officially released and shown in thousands of theaters across the United States. It became the focus of attention in the media and as could be expected, controversy has continued.

I saw it on Saturday morning, February 28th, at a small theater complex in Indiana PA. I am not a well known film critic making big bucks telling people what films they should or should not see because I am an "expert" and you are not. I am not a high profile Christian leader with a TV program or a senior pastor of a super mega-church with a 7 or 8 figure operating budget and multi pastoral staff which does all the leg work! Nor am I an "official" in the upper echelons of a mainline denomination demanding that you listen to me because of who and what I am!

No, I am just a guy out in the sticks in the Laurel Highlands of central Pennsylvania who was born on a farm many years ago in the Clarion area of Clarion County, Pennsylvania. And since God has put it on my heart to express some thoughts as just about everyone is doing, so I will do with no claim of infallibility and no demand that what is written is the final word on this issue.

There is a radical departure from the way movie films begin. In the old days the title came up and then names of the actors and actresses. This was followed by names of others involved and usually there was some sort of decorative background on which the printed information was placed. Then it was changed where the title and credits appeared on scenes of activity as the story began, and this goes on for a prolonged period -- you see things happening and people coming and going with printed matter being flashed before your eyes every few seconds to the point of where it becomes very irritating! "The Passion of The Christ" title comes up and then you are immediately placed in the Garden of Gethsemane as the burden of the sins of the human race and impending death by crucifixion weigh heavily upon Jesus. Credits are not run until the film has concluded.

I attempted to prepare myself emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually as the account unfolded with the fact that Jesus went through this most horrendous experience for me -- every laceration and injury inflicted was the result of my sin -- the frantic cry of "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" was the result of my sin as He endured total abandonment of God and the torment of hell on my behalf!

And further, I fully believe if I had been the only sinner in this vast universe and all others were totally pure and righteous, that Jesus loved me so much He would have gone through it all just for me (or for you if you had been the only sinner) so that I could be forgiven, restored to righteousness and fellowship with God. Not that I deserve such love and sacrifice, but that's the nature of God -- He loved us while we were yet sinners and sent His Son to suffer and die for us (Romans 5).

The film is quite accurate in reflecting what happened in the Gospel accounts. One very powerful moment is a flashback when Jesus is sharing the Passover meal with His disciples and makes the statement that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. As this subtitle flashed on the screen I found myself thinking, "Will the next statement come up?" Hardly had the thought come into my mind when suddenly the words, "No one comes to the Father but by me!" appeared.

It is this statement that stirs controversy in church circles today. There are church leaders who have sold their own souls and sold out the church by saying that there are other ways of salvation and that other religions in the world such as Islam and Hinduism are just as legitimate as Christianity. Therefore we need to back off and quit insisting that Jesus is exclusively the way of forgiveness, salvation, hope, and reconciliation with God Almighty!

Satan was portrayed as being real and resolved to defeat the purposes of God. Again the church has been plagued by those within its ranks who dismiss the real existence of Satan and an extremely large number of demon spirits aligned with him.

But I wonder a bit as to the way Satan was pictured in the film. Would it have been a bit more on target to have portrayed him as a handsome charismatic type of personality in light of 2 Corinthians 11 where we are informed that he has the ability to masquerade as an angel of light as he goes about his malicious work of deception?

I was a little bit disappointed in the incident of Peter's denial of Jesus. Considerable attention was given to this and I was waiting to hear the rooster crow, since Jesus had foretold earlier that it would happen. So as the drama unfolded we come to the 3rd denial with cursing, but we don't hear the rooster. It would have driven home the point much more effectively if there had been a brief moment of silence and then the rooster crows -- who knows how many of us might be saying to ourselves, "How often have I denied my Lord?"

Pilate's involvement and dilemma were much in harmony with the Gospel accounts. The Scripture of course tells us that he was sensitive enough to know the Jewish leadership had handed Jesus over with a demand for His death because of their envy and feeling threatened by Him. By their own admission He was popular with the common folk. Another high point is in the discussion about truth between Jesus and Pilate -- a great tragedy here -- Pilate is staring straight into the face of eternal truth revealed in human form and he doesn't even realize it! But then that experience is repeated millions of times over even in our time and generation.

The brutal scourging depicted the Roman cruelty in treatment of non-citizens of the empire. Again, as mentioned earlier, it is most helpful to make this as personal as possible -- He went through this for me -- by His stripes I am healed (Isaiah 53). Sadly this is where the vast majority of professional film critics fumble the ball -- they are unable to make a connection here, which leads to an interesting question -- can "professionalism" be a significant factor in causing a person to end up in hell for eternity?

Questionable is the incident of Pilate's wife giving towels to Mary and the attempt made to use those towels to wipe up the blood spattered area where Jesus was scourged. Gibson obviously took a great measure of "poetic license" with this which has no Biblical basis whatsoever. On the other hand it does underscore the love which Mary had for Jesus. There are other moments in the film which center on Mary and the grief she was going through as she witnessed what was happening to her Son. We need to remember that she knew He was very special -- He was radically different, beginning with His miraculous birth. The Bible tells us that there were things she kept in her heart which pertained to her Son.

A considerable amount of time and attention is given to Jesus' journey to the site of the crucifixion -- the Romans compelling Simon to help carry the cross -- Jesus' repeated stumbling -- views of the crowd watching -- Mary's anguish in these moments, etc. What is missing is a significant statement by Jesus as He was making His way to the crucifixion site. Scripture notes that a number of women were weeping, and presumably, Mary His mother would have been one of them. It is to the grieving women that Jesus speaks:

And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him. But Jesus, turning to them, said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore, and the breasts which never nursed!' Then they will begin 'to say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!"' For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?"
Luke 23:27-31 NKJV

Those statements underscored Jesus' lament some days earlier as He came into Jerusalem prior to Passover. As He gazed upon the city He spoke of the tragedy which would befall the city in the future, and which actually took place when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70:

Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation."
Luke 19:41-44 NKJV

The crucifixion scenes are Biblically accurate and again reflect clearly how Rome dispatched those who were guilty of crimes punishable by death who were not citizens of the empire.

The chain reaction of events at the crucifixion proceeds in a powerful way -- the clouds thicken and darken -- the earthquake -- calamity in the temple area and people getting very fearful, including the Roman military people. It would have added significantly to those scenes if 2 things would have been included -- first, showing the veil being torn in two from top to bottom, and second, the centurion's statement, "Truly this was the Son of God," as mentioned in the Scriptures. The veil represented the separation between a holy God and sinful humans -- now the way into the presence of God was possible due to Jesus' blood atonement on behalf of every human being.

There is a third element which is often overlooked when one deals with the crucifixion and how a movie director would attempt to picture this on film stretches the imagination beyond limits. The churches usually focus on the last statements of Jesus as He was hanging on the cross. But when He gave up His spirit at the end -- when He actually died (or laid down His life as He so stated in His own words), and the earthquake broke loose, we are told that the graves of many were opened and bodies of saints were raised -- these then went into the city and appeared to many of the citizens after Jesus' resurrection -- what a shock that must have been, and what a juicy subject to gossip about in the weeks to follow! Anyway, it did happen, but it seems to be a hush-hush subject in most churches -- but then the resurrection of Jesus is a troubling subject to a number of theologians, church leaders, pastors, and lay folks these days. His being alive can cramp our style, but keeping Him in the grave seems to give us more liberty -- or so we are deceived into believing!

Another highly questionable moment depicted in the movie -- but that reflects Gibson's traditional Catholicism -- much time is given to Mary holding the body of Jesus after He is taken down from the cross. Actually the Bible focuses on a wealthy and influential man by the name of Joseph who arranges to take possession of Jesus' body after getting Pilate's permission and placing the body in a rock hewn tomb which he had planned for his own future burial. In the Scripture it is Joseph and not Mary who becomes prominent after Jesus' body is taken down from the cross!

I found myself anxious to see how Jesus' resurrection would be treated. I was not disappointed -- there is the moment of total darkness -- then light -- the grave garments collapsing and settling down on top of the stone slab as though they had been inflated and then suddenly deflated! All of a sudden there He is -- alive and free of all the lacerations EXCEPT for the scars of the nails. We remember that He stressed this in His early appearance to the disciples.

I waited for the conclusion of these comments to mention a very significant statement made by Jesus in one of the flashback scenes of the Passover meal. He talks about being hated by the world and reminds His followers that they will be hated by the world just as He also was hated. We sometimes get misled into believing that Christianity will be accepted by just about everyone and Christians will have pretty much smooth sailing during their trip through this world. Review very carefully His statements in John 15 and the leading statements in John 16 in which He said the time would come when those who kill His followers will think that they are doing service for God!

No, Mel Gibson didn't make the perfect movie in "The Passion of The Christ" but still it can be a means by which people can be confronted with a basic eternal truth -- Jesus Christ bore the sins of each human upon Himself and satisfied the demands of God's justice regarding punishment of human sin and rebellion -- now then, what kind of decision will be made about this?

And for Christians who view the film -- what kind of decisions are you being led to make regarding your future commitment in representing Him Who is King of kings and Lord of lords? And will that commitment remain intact until He returns to earth in power and glory to rule forever?

Even so, come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)

Then He said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what advantage is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels."
Luke 9:23-26 NKJV


March 6, 2004
by Clayton D. Harriger
Elder in Full Connection
W. PA Annual Conference
The United Methodist Church
and presently pastor of
Gipsy Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Gipsy PA

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