I had delayed and stalled, but finally bit the bullet last Saturday. At the urging and invitation of some church members, I went with a group to see “The Passion of the Christ.” I had dreaded seeing it, knowing that the film depicted the sufferings of Jesus so graphically and interminably that it earned an “R” rating and criticism from a lot of thoughtful people. I joking told our congregation I might have to buy three tickets and see the movie in installments. After all, who would want to pay good money to see their loved one brutalized?
Sunday I gave our church members-the half who have not seen the film-an assignment: see the movie this week. The events surrounding Good Friday and Easter will never be the same.
In 1967 I went to see a re-release of “Gone With the Wind.” The movie had been around since 1939, but it was the first time I had seen it. I came back to the church office and typed up two pages of reactions to the film and responses to issues it raised, then could not decide what to do with it. Everyone else knew the story, the plot, and the characters, and no one was the least bit curious as to what I thought.
“The Passion” has been around since the beginning of Lent, with hundreds of stories written and programs aired, and obviously no one is asking for my take on the film. But, I find it impossible to let this event go by without registering these few thoughts.
1. I was struck by the excessive brutality. When the soldiers caned Jesus, I started counting the strokes, expecting them to end with the proverbial thirty-nine. After the canes, the soldiers grabbed up “cat-o-nine-tails” and continued flailing. I counted nearly a hundred lashes. Was it this way in real life? No one knows. I did notice that the two thieves hanging on adjacent crosses remained unmarked.
2. Jesus’ face was badly abused and contorted. Did it happen this way? A verse from Isaiah comes to mind. “His appearance was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.” (Isa. 52:14) Evidently so.
3. I’d like to prescribe two Scriptures for every person who views “The Passion.” Psalm 22, written perhaps 1000 BC, reads as if you are inside the mind of Jesus while He hangs on the cross. Truly an amazing prophecy. Then, Isaiah 53, written some 700 years before Christ, almost as an eyewitness account of Jesus’ death on the cross. How an unbeliever can dismiss these is beyond me.
4. Almost everyone I’ve talked to has been puzzled by the fleeting view of the risen Christ. In the movie, we hear a massive stone being rolled away, sunlight streams into the tomb, Jesus’ body disappears from inside the burial garments, and He walks out. As He passes before us, our eyes behold a massive hole in His right hand, left by a spike. I appreciate the realistic view of the hand. People need to know this is not some spirit walking out of the tomb, but the same man who was beaten, tortured, and impaled on a cross the previous Friday.
5. You know, of course, that one of the elements of theological liberalism is either to deny that the resurrection of Jesus occurred at all or deny that it was Jesus’ physical, human body that was raised. The Lord Himself, of course, refuses to cooperate. Luke describes the risen Jesus materializing inside the Upper Room in the midst of a group of frightened disciples. The Lord says, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:38-39) Then, as if to underscore the point, Jesus asked, “Anybody got anything to eat?” Ah, no wonder we love this Lord!
6. Actually, when the angels rolled away the stone from our Lord’s tomb, it was not to let Jesus out, but His followers in. God wanted everyone to know that the Lord of Life was up and about. No grave could hold him, then or since.
In my sermon this Easter Sunday, I will emphasize to our people that the death of Jesus on the cross, His “Passion,” has meaning for us only because He rose from the grave that first Easter morning. If Jesus is still in a grave somewhere, we His followers are out of hope, out of luck, and out of business, and we ought to find something productive to do with our lives. However, since He is indeed risen, then nothing will ever be the same. (That’s my version of I Corinthians 15.)
My favorite story about Easter comes from a small reference in a 1943 book, “Paris Underground,” written by Etta Shuber who was trapped inside Paris when Hitler’s storm troopers entered in the Spring of 1940. The Germans quickly shut down the country, guarded the borders, and refused to let anyone leave. However, a small border town saw its population diminishing rapidly. The Nazis found that the town cemetery straddled the border, and that the locals had opened up an ancient gate in the rear of the graveyard wall. Every time mourners entered the cemetery for a funeral, they kept right on walking out the back gate, emerging into the land of freedom and life.
When Jesus died on the cross, He bore the burden and paid the cost of our sins. When He was buried, He took our transgressions as far away as the east is from the west (Psalm 103). When He rose from the grave, He blew out a door in the back of the cemetery. We still go there; we just don’t spend any time in it. We keep right on walking through that valley of the shadow of death until we emerge into the land of the eternally living and the forever free.
This Sunday, try to choose an Easter sunrise service held in a cemetery. Think of it as invading enemy territory to deliver an “in your face” taunt to death, hell, and the grave. “My Lord has defeated you! He’s coming back soon and you will give up everyone you now hold! You are out of business, death!”
“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (I Corinthians 15)
I love this article, as I do ALL of them.
I hope this will be a blessed Easter for you.
I am praying for you as you begin your new ministry. I know you will be a blessing and used of the Lord to be a healer and encourager to many.
Keep up the good work. Your are right, of coursr, HE ISRISEN, INDEED. !! JOEL DAVIS
thank you rfor the artiflce ILoved it. liek alwasy I enjoy your opiniona dn wiew poitns.s o.. keep them coming. God bless you PIlar. sorry bout the tipe O but.. mi braind and fingers are nto int eh same planet . hahahah