There has been animated discussion in the brotherhood over the movie “The Passion of the Christ.” Some are adamantly opposed, feeling that it was a money making project cashing in on the dramatic events of the last days of our Savior. Others state that although many scenes are overly violent, it is offset by the fact that millions previously ignorant of the details of Christ’s death have now been exposed to them.
Whatever our personal opinion, the fact remains that many churches are capitalizing upon the interest caused by the movie and have prepared specific web pages to deal with the frequently asked question: “Why did Jesus have to die and especially by such a protracted, horrible death”?
Although when we meet together on the first day of the week, the objective is to leave behind the things of the world, this particular film centers upon the very things that we have come to remember, the death and resurrection of our Lord. Considering our remembrance, maybe it is not inappropriate to consider the movie from the aspect of using it to bring into focus the crucifixion story and also as a future preaching tool.
One of our outreach activities in southern California is a telephone number that people can call to hear a three-minute Bible message. Brethren volunteer to help write and deliver messages for four weeks. As it was soon to be my turn, it seemed appropriate to focus on the interest engendered by the film and give a biblical explanation of why God required the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. I thought it expedient to see the film first, in order to understand the perspective it gave. This was a good decision because it enabled me to have informed discussions with people from various backgrounds.
The movie covered the last 24 hours of the mortal life of our Lord, ending with a brief scene of the resurrection. Although the emphasis on violence was unnecessary, the script was a fairly accurate portrayal of the Bible account. It showed the illegal and unjust trial, the mocking, the spitting in the face of Jesus, the pain and blood from the crown of thorns jammed onto his head, the terrible scourging and the agonizing walk from the city to Calvary culminating in the crucifixion.
A dramatic statement
The opening scene of the movie made a lasting impression on my mind. Jesus and his disciples were in the garden of Gethsemane: “He went a little farther and fell on his face and prayed” (Matt. 26:39). Then there is a dramatic deviation from the biblical record, for as Jesus is praying, a snake slithers across his hand. Greatly startled he observes the creature, jumps up and crushes its head with his foot, an echo of Genesis 3:15.
Not one of the many folks with whom I have discussed the movie mentioned this scene. Most did not even remember it, even when I described the details. This emphasizes the general ignorance of one of the most important themes of scripture: “And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, the serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.” The NIV gives the following translation of the next words: “And I will put enmity between you [the serpent who represented sin] and the woman, and between your offspring [those who follow sinful ways] and hers [those who follow God’s ways, ultimately Christ]; he [Christ] will crush your [sin’s] head and you will strike his [Christ’s] heel” (Gen. 3:15 NIV).
As Bible students, Christadelphians have consistently taught that in this passage is found the first of God’s gracious promises of redemption. Considering this scene, I was reminded of the Truth Corps presentation entitled “The Promises.” The first section of the presentation deals with the promises made to Adam and Eve and contains a graphic illustration of Genesis 3:15, showing a green snake at the bottom of the page with his fangs bared, ready to strike. A giant heel is descending to crush the serpent’s head and in the background is the shadow of a cross. Of course we are all familiar with these foundation principles and doctrines, but it is helpful to review them at times, especially in the context of our remembrance service.
Through disobedience, the progenitors of the human race became dying creatures and the sad condition was passed on to all future generations. The Lord reassured the downcast Adam and Eve that in the process of time, He would send a Savior who would overcome sin in all its aspects.
Several thousand years later the promise was fulfilled. Through His holy spirit, God caused Mary to conceive and have a child through the normal birth process, making him both the seed of the woman and uniquely the Son of God. He lived a normal human life for thirty years, going through childhood, teens and early manhood, yet he committed no sin. During the last three and one half years of his life, while ministering the gospel, the testing of his character and obedience became more intense. The wilderness trials were but a foretaste of the temptations common to humankind that were to assail him in his struggles against the wiles of the “devil.” Forty days’ fasting tested his reliance upon his Father’s word. Unlimited spirit power tested his ability to use it acceptably. How easy it would have been to succumb to the yearnings for prestige by a dramatic demonstration of his prowess, and then by allowing the people to make him their king. Self-adulation was abhorrent to him: “For it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matt. 4:10).
When the fact of the remarkable personality of Jesus is grasped, the question is sure to be asked: “Why was it necessary for him to die”? As Christadelphians we must be prepared to give the correct scriptural explanation.
God’s justice seen
Of course the essential fact is that although the Lord Jesus lived a sinless life, he bore our nature with the attendant sinful tendencies that had been sentenced to death by God. The lifting up of Christ on the cross declared to all the just desserts of sin.
The apostle Paul makes this quite clear as he shows the righteousness of God proclaimed by the prophets: “Even the righteousness God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference; for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by this grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth…” In effect, by setting forth (the lifting up) of His Son on the cross for all to see, the Lord God was demonstrating the result of sin.
But the Lord God, who is a just and righteous being, did not allow His holy one to see corruption because, contrary to his nature, Jesus had been obedient even unto death. So God raised the Son, who was untainted by sin, “to be a propitiation (mercy seat) through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:22-26).
High and lifted up
When the Israelites rebelled against God in the wilderness, He caused serpents to bite and kill them. “Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people” (Num. 21:6-7). The Lord’s merciful response was to command Moses to lift up a brazen replica of the cause of death (serpent sin). All who stopped looking out for the serpents on the ground and looked up in faith at the pole were saved.
The incident was a graphic foreshadowing of the work of the one who was greater than Moses. Fifteen hundred years later, the Lord Jesus himself said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:14-15).
This is the answer to the seekers of truth. Jesus the Savior died as a representative of sin-stricken mankind, all who look to him in faith will, in God’s mercy, find life.
Now as we prepare to take the emblems, not only of his death but also of his resurrection, let us give thanks.
Dick Patterson, Verdugo Hills, California