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Today\’s focus on Christ\’s death is misplaced

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.

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5 thoughts on “Today\’s focus on Christ\’s death is misplaced”

  1. Regards Gibson’s movie – if it is in fact an accurate (scholarly)depiction of the Passion in the New Testament (NT). Then to try and ban the movie as anti-semitic is really no different than saying the NT is anti-semitic (with all that implies). I am no Bible scholar but as I remember the story – Jesus never attacked the Jewish faith (as Dave points out) – only those who had perverted it for material and political gain. Those Jews who called for Jesus’s death -were those whose position and power were threatened by what he taught. In effect – he was not killed by Jews – but by those who had corrupted what it meant to be Jewish. Didn’t Jesus also teach, or remind us – that by being the "chosen people" (and all of us have the potential to be chosen) we have the special responsibility to live a life that honors God first and not ourselves.

    Some things you must love because they’re impossible to like

  2. Dean, having not seen the movie yet, I can’t vouch for its scholarly merit. What I can say is that more people are likely to see a mass-market movie than they are to read the four Gospels. Just because the Bible is always on the best-seller list doesn’t mean people read it. And that may scare people.

    You are also correct that Jesus did not attack Judaism, but had serious differences with people who were profiting off the religion at the time–some famous examples being the moneychangers at the temple, the Pharisees, and Sadducees.

    And it was that group who wanted Him dead, not the common Jew. Among them, His popularity was mixed, but some of them wanted to make Him king. Because of that, I believe that even if the religious authorities of the day hadn’t killed Him, the Romans eventually would have.

    1. It would seem there are 2 unfortunate clouds hanging over the
      whole project. First – the misguided focus on who killed Jesus and
      the spectre of anti-semitism that obscures the greater message of
      the NT, and second – the ugly reality that too many Christians
      throughout history have themselves indulged this misguided focus
      and made the potential for anti-semitic backlash a valid concern. I
      understand both the Pope and Billy Graham have endorsed the
      movie. Perhaps the movie will promote a fresh, open discussion
      that will allow everyone to shift from who killed Jesus, to why Jesus

      Some things you must love because they’re impossible to like

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