I’ve been thinking about Mel Gibson’s upcoming The Passion of Christ. It’s hard not to, with all the publicity drummed up about it, and my church bought two showings of it on opening week and me finding out today that we’ve already sold all of our tickets.
I believe the controversy is misplaced, but I don’t want to dissuade the people who are up in arms about the movie. Keep talking about it. Keep drawing attention to it. That only means that more people will talk about it, and more people will see it. And talking about it and seeing it is exactly what Mel Gibson wants. And talking about Him is exactly what Jesus wanted.
The rest of this post is for the rest of you.This movie is controversial because it deals with the execution of Jesus Christ, which for some reason is always a controversial topic. In the past, it has been used to drum up anti-Semitism for questionable purposes. Christianity is not about anti-Semitism. Need I point out that Jesus was as Jewish as they come? And so were the 12 guys he ran around with for 3 years? So was Paul, the most prolific of the early missionaries.
Christians should know (and I hope they do) that who killed Jesus is irrelevant. Jesus had to die, period. He had to die because that was what God sent Him to do.
But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it is relevant. I’ll play the game.
Technically speaking, it wasn’t even the Jews of the day who killed Him. They couldn’t. By law, they didn’t have that right. They encouraged the Romans to kill Him, but it was Pilate, the Roman governor, who gave the order, because only Pilate had the right to order the death penalty. It’s no different from someone who hires a hit man to kill somebody. Both the hit man and the person who hired the hit man are guilty.
The Rome of Jesus’ day doesn’t exist anymore, politically speaking. But its tradition, its form of law, and its very philosophy of life lives on in modern Europeans. I’m of European descent, and if you’re reading this, chances are you are too. If the Jew down the street from you is responsible for Jesus’ death, then you are no less guilty.
And that leads us very nicely into where our focus should be. Our focus should not be on who killed Jesus, but rather, why did God send Him to die in the first place?
The reason is very simple. Sin.
Here’s an exercise that I’ve had people do from time to time. I want you to picture the person who has grieved you more than anyone else in life. Remember the pain that person caused you. Now, put that person on trial for what she or he did. The judge hands down the verdict: Death. A horrible death. Crucifixion, to be exact.
So that person who grieved you gets flogged 39 times (40 would kill you), then they strap a big piece of lumber to his/her back and begin the march up the hill. You go along, because you’re going to drive the first nail. About halfway there, the beaten and tired executionee falls. Someone grabs the closest man out of the crowd and makes him carry it the rest of the way. He does so willingly.
And once they get up that hill, just as the executionee is about to have an ugly face-to-face meeting with fate, that man from the crowd cries out, “Wait! I’ll go instead.” And pushing everyone out of the way, He lays down, willingly, on that cross.
That executionee, in some people’s minds I’m sure, is me. In someone else’s mind, that executionee is you. Or my neighbor. Or your neighbor. Because we’ve all hurt somebody, regardless of our intentions or anything else. We’re all guilty.
Jesus died so that you and I wouldn’t have to. And then He drove the point home by coming back from the dead three days later. And Jesus didn’t really focus on His death after coming back. Instead, He talked more about His life, and what His surviving followers were supposed to do next.
Our attitude about Jesus’ death should be like that of Joseph. See Genesis 45. Joseph was the son of Jacob who was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt. The brothers faked his death and sold him as a slave to some traveling Arabs, who in turn sold Joseph in Egypt. Joseph gained favor through the years, and eventually found himself in a position of high power. There was a serious famine, but the shrewd Joseph had been stockpiling food, so during the famine, Egypt was the only country who had anything. Then one day, guess who shows up wanting to buy food from Joseph? His brothers. And guess what Joseph had to say to them?
“God sent me here to save your lives… So it wasn’t you who sent me here, but God.” (my paraphrase of Genesis 45:7-8.)
Just as God meant the horrible thing that happened to Joseph for good, God meant that horrible thing that happened to Jesus for good.
Specifically, for your good and mine.