Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ shook the world in 2004 with its depiction of the sufferings and crucifixion of Christ. Accused by the press for anti-Semitism and for portraying the barbarism inflicted on Christ too explicitly, Gibson defended himself. He affirmed the theological truth that neither the Jews nor the Romans crucified Jesus – we did! The agonising scene portraying the Roman crucifixion included a close-up of Mel Gibson’s hands hammering the nails through Jesus’ hands and feet – Gibson’s testimony to the fact that it was his sins along with those of all humanity that crucified Christ.
There is no doubt that The Passion of the Christ is an extremely graphic film, but to students of the cruel practice of crucifixion and the public scourging that went before it, know that Gibson actually played down the gruesome reality of Christ’s Passion. As it is, especially in the more adult version of the film, there is much blood. So much in fact, that one man who I was seeking to lead to Christ at the time, complained. “There’s too much blood in the film”, he said, “What’s with you Christians? You are so fixated on blood!” He was clearly repulsed by the visual images depicting Christ’s suffering. It was neither the Jews nor the Romans that crucified Christ; it was my sins along with those of all humanity.
The irony was my friend had just been speaking enthusiastically about Tarantino’s Kill Bill 2. Like the first film, it revelled in blood and gore. I pointed out the inconsistency in my friend’s different reactions to Kill Bill 2 and The Passion. Aware that there was something going on beneath the conscious surface of his life, he became silent. It was an important moment of self-awareness for him.
Revulsion at the cross is not unusual. Isaiah the prophet spoke about it 700 years before the Messiah was born. What would he be like when he finally came? Isaiah answers,
He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from him; He was despised, and we did not esteem him. Isaiah 53:3
The Christian faith places the Passion of Christ its centre; it is the summit of God’s redemptive purposes and the highest source of inspiration for every disciple.
The image of Christ would be shaped by his Passion, his sufferings and death. How can the shame, cruelty and sheer disgust of the cross become for Christians our defining moment personally and for humanity as a whole? The worship of a crucified Christ is scandalous and contradictory. Surely we should worship success and victory – not the inglorious bloodsoaked Christ of the cross. And yet, the Christian faith places the Passion of Christ at the centre. For us, it is the summit of God’s redemptive purposes and the highest source of inspiration for every disciple who is nothing less than a cross-bearing follower of the Christ.
The pieces of this puzzle begin to come together when, by the revelation of the Spirit, we perceive that Christ’s death was neither a violent accident of history nor a cosmic blunder. It was the very plan and express purpose of God for the salvation and restoration of our lives. Turning to Isaiah, once again, we begin to understand. Surely he has borne our griefs, And carried our sorrows Yet we esteemed him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon him, And by his stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:4-5 Christ’s death was the plan and purpose of God for the salvation and restoration of our lives.
The gospel hinges on this fact so clearly revealed in the New Testament – Jesus became the substitute sacrifice for the sins of the world. On the cross he paid the price for our total forgiveness by God who is so absolutely holy that he could never tolerate sin. The cross measures God’s unrelenting love for lost humanity, our implacable rebellion against him and the limitless outpouring of his gracious restoration of our lives. I longed for my friend to discover these things. The same is true for all those who have bowed at the foot of the cross in gratitude and amazement at the perfect plan of God. We can never be the same. We have seen too much. We have tasted the goodness of God and we are captivated by such amazing love.
A pastor friend of mine who leads a growing cell church in Australia is one of the most passionate disciples of Christ I know. He is sold out for God and the good news of Jesus. He lives and breathes mission. During one of the very first commercial screenings of The Passion he sat with members of his church mingled with regular cinema goers from Australia’s non religious general public.
When the film ended, a deep, tense silence descended on the audience. No one moved. The pastor, deeply affected by the reality of the movie’s content and the beauty of Gibson’s screen play, jumped to his feet and shouted, “Jesus! I will follow you anywhere!” The pastor’s passion was palpable and it impacted the entire audience. They were catapulted into transcendent reality like the star ship Enterprise, suddenly boosted to ‘warp speed’.
The cross changes everything – the Christ who died and who rose again is the Christ to be followed.
Such is the effect of the cross. It changes everything. It removes the tawdry irrelevancies of our selfcentredness and banishes them to the sidelines of our existence. The Christ who died and who rose again is the Christ to be followed. No one who comes close to the cross could ever fail to hear the heartbeat of God. The Father’s breast throbs with passion for his lost sons and daughters and calls to them from heaven, “This is my beloved Son. Hear him!”
The cross has shaped countless generations of disciples who wholeheartedly agree with the apostle Paul when he declared, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” They share his God-inspired passion for Jesus which also led the apostle to say, “I want to know him, the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death.”
The passion flowing from the cross breeds a like passion in our hearts – the attraction of his sacrificial love compels us to follow him, and we never regret it.
The passion flowing from the cross breeds a like-for-like passion in our hearts. We love him because he first loved us. The gracious gift of his life for us provokes a response – we give him our lives as ‘living sacrifices’. The attraction of his sacrificial love compels us to follow him, and we never regret it. He is worth more than the entire world to us.
Disciples are passionate people. Gone is the colourless living in this monochromatic world where the best of worldly achievement and success is empty when compared to the glory being revealed in us. Gone is the preoccupation with self, both secular and religious. Christ is our inspiration and our motivation. We leave behind worldly ambitions. We also reject the religious preoccupation with guilt and condemnation. Clothed with the righteousness of Christ and emboldened by the flame of spiritual passion burning within, we follow him – no matter what the cost. Passion is intense feeling, it is the fire in our eyes and in our lives that drives us forward.
We all have a basic need to feel passion. That is how God made us as human beings. It seems that the image of God in humanity includes a craving to be passionate about purpose, destiny, beauty, skill and impact. Passion is intense feeling, strong excitement, strong affection, love, intense desire and enthusiasm. Passion is the fire in our eyes, in our bellies and in our lives that drives us forward to achieve the object of our passion. When people lose passion or have no fire in their soul you can tell it right away. They go through their lives as if they are on auto-pilot and the joy seems to have leaked out of them. When people have a passion in life you can see it and feel it. Having passion is a way of living every moment of your life to its fullest. When it comes to having and feeling passion, you know when you have it and you know when you don’t. We all need to decide what we are passionate about having or doing in our life and then be open to doing what we need to do to keep it that way.