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The Passion of the Christ – History, Irony and Gibson

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"Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?"  Isaiah 53:1

Passion of the ChristThe Passion of the Christ has persuaded many to become believers, at least in the rediscovered box office value of religious films. Too late however, for the Hollywood Studios, who must be gnashing their teeth after turning down Gibson initially, forcing him to put up his own money (25 Million) to create and distribute the film on independent label; ICON productions, with partner Bruce Davey. Gibson’s financial reward has been great, since Passion is the all time leader for a February release selling $83,848,082 in its first weekend, and has crossed the 300 million dollar mark in U.S. box office receipts at the time of this writing. Can it catch the all time leader? Titanic gained a massive $600,788,188 in domestic sales, and $1,835,400,000 world wide. The Passion is just beginning its worldwide exposure, accompanied by the usual criticisms from those who oppose it. Germany’s Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, joined Jewish organizations in a joint declaration, warning that the Passion could inflame anti-Semitism in Europe, and that it’s violence “exceeds acceptable boundaries”. Yet audiences are still flocking to see it. “The Passion of the Christ” is literally telling the Gospel around the entire world. 

Was the Passion Too Violent?

Mel Gibson's - The Passion of the ChristCertainly Passion is the “Saving Private Ryan” of religious films; graphically violent, depicting with historical realism the trial, torture, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. This violence moves some to tears, as they emotionally engage the cost paid by the Son of God to legally reconcile them to an infinitely Holy God. Many speak of the love of the Father, who gave His absolute best for man’s redemption. Jesus summarizes this love in his conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus recorded in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him would not perish, but have eternal life.” For those that accept the ‘Christ event’ as historically recorded by eyewitnesses, the violence is a self sacrificial triumph of love on their behalf by their Creator. Yet for others who do not approach this film from a believing point of view, the violence may seem simply gratuitous and gruesome. The cruelty of the ancient Roman flagrum, and Crucifixion, is well documented. 

Was the Passion Anti-Jewish, Anti-Semitic?

The film is not anti-Jewish. It has a hero, villains, sympathetic characters, unsympathetic characters, & neutral characters as any film. Consider that all the characters good and bad, other than the Romans, were Jewish. The high priests who condemned Jesus were Jewish. The disciples who followed Jesus were Jewish. Mary the mother of Jesus was Jewish. Judas who betrayed Jesus was Jewish. The women weeping for Jesus were Jewish. The mob was Jewish, some screamed to save Jesus, others to condemn him. Jesus was Jewish. The Roman soldiers were the most brutal against Jesus, yet no one has said the film is anti-Italian. The film is more anti-self-righteousness, as are both Testaments in Scripture. The Passion accentuates the humility of our Creator, who became incarnate through the Jewish people, and submitted to a brutal death, to save those He created as foretold by the Jewish prophets through the Jewish Scriptures. The ignorant however, can miss any message, and given the history of anti-Semitism, one can understand the fear. 

Until the Jewish leaders accept their Messiah whom they have pierced, it may just be infuriating & embarrassing. All Christians should greatly respect Israel and the Jewish people. They are a nation chosen to bring about God’s plan of redemption for mankind. They were chosen as the keepers of the Law of God, impossible for any person to keep, and a grievous burden to bear, but a necessary revelation of God’s holiness. They were chosen as the people who would bring the Messiah to the world. All of this they have done. We are grateful and should support Israel, and show them the love that Jesus Himself gave. The same Scriptures that revealed Israel would reject their Messiah, also foretell that Israel will accept their Messiah at His Second Coming.

History and Theology of the Christ Event

The violence upon Christ was God’s solution for a twin dilemma within God’s own nature, God’s love and justice. His eternal love desires to be intimate, and lavish upon mankind the glories of His kingdom. His eternal justice requires judgment and punishment of evil, and man’s misuse of his freewill. God’s definition of evil is every act of commission or omission that does not conform to His nature expressed in His law. This conflict in a perfect and holy God cannot be resolved by ignoring it. If you’ve ever felt a righteous rage for an absolute injustice, you’re tapping the image of God within. Anyone who has had his or her own child commit a grave injustice would feel a deep portion of God’s love/justice dilemma. And what we experience in part, God experiences completely, perfectly and transcendently. He is all-perfect and all sin must be judged. God could only solve this dilemma, (the need to judge man, and desire to love man,) by becoming man Himself, and bearing eternal justice upon the cross. God the Father judged God the Son to spare man whom He loves. Not only did the Jewish Messiah bare the direct suffering, but the Father also bore the suffering of giving over the One He loves, to the torturers, for the sake of mankind. And all of this was foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures including the fact that God’s own people would misunderstand their Savior and be the ones to sacrifice Him. 

Ancient Bar Kochba Temple CoinThe main purpose of Israel’s priesthood was to slaughter the sacrificial animals, and place them upon the altar, to atone for the sins of Israel. They offered up daily sacrifices for sin, as well as, major holiday offerings, such as on Yom Kippur & Passover. It is sobering to see in the Passion, the image of the High Priest, fulfilling the historic purpose for his office as he provided Jesus for the altar of the cross on Passover, when we know historically the priests in the Temple were at the same time offering up spotless lambs for the forgiveness of sins. “Why is this day different from all others?” rings out as an ironic sledgehammer, as Scripture asks us to remember the first Passover when the spirit of judgment and death passed over the houses in Egypt which were obedient to place blood of the lamb on the doorpost.

The Passion of the Christ, is a dramatic invitation to the entire world, to receive that sacrifice of Christ, and place that blood on the doorpost of their own heart.


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