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The Passion of the Christ By: Gary Palmer
Alabama Policy Institute | Monday, April 12, 2004


After having watched the movie The Passion of the Christ I can honestly confess that Easter will never be the same for me again.

In his review of the film, movie critic Roger Ebert said, “It is a film about an idea — [an] idea that it is necessary to fully comprehend the Passion if Christianity is to make any sense.”   So let me say from the outset that my views on this movie are in the context of my faith.  Consequently, I realize this article may not appeal to all.

There has been a great deal of controversy concerning the extremely violent depiction of the scourging and crucifixion of Jesus in The Passion.  But the whole point of the movie is to get across the message that appears in its opening frames in which a passage from Isaiah 53:5 is quoted:  “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.”

The movie is not about blaming the Jews or the Romans; it is about the price that had to be paid to redeem mankind.  To communicate that message, The Passion takes us as viewers to a place few, if any, of us have ever been in terms of understanding fully the sufferings of Christ.  Our suffering Christ has always been a sterile, clean Jesus, not covered in spit and blood, not with ripped and torn flesh.

Based on another passage from Isaiah it could be argued that director Mel Gibson exercised some restraint in portraying the violence of the scourging and torture of Jesus. Isaiah 52:14 describes Him more the way He is presented in The Passion.  It says, “…His visage was marred more than any man.”  Or as some commentators have said, Jesus was beaten to the point that He was no longer recognizable.

To portray the torture and death of Jesus as anything less than it was would not do justice to what He did for us as individuals.  And herein may lay the biggest problem that people have with The Passion.  Watching the beating and crucifixion of Jesus makes it inescapably personal; what He endured, He endured for each of us individually.

C.S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist, wrote that when Christ died He did not die for societies or states, not for the impersonal masses of humanity, not even for men, but for each man and each woman individually.   Lewis wrote that if we alone were the only being created, He would have done no less.  Once you understand that His death was for you and me individually, then watching the stripes inflicted upon His back and seeing the nails driven through His flesh places some serious demands on us. 

The Passion forces us to consider the depths of God’s love in that Christ would endure such suffering to save us all … even the Roman soldiers that beat Him with such savagery.  Many viewers, including my wife, were stunned by the inhumanity of the Roman soldiers and the delight they took in tearing apart the body of Christ. 

What struck me is how totally incapable I am to love any person so cruel and so depraved.  Then it occurred to me that sadistic and depraved may be how all mankind appeared to God.  Yet He gave up His only Son to be subjected to the boundlessness of Satan’s hate to save even the worst of humankind —even those that beat Christ into a mass of torn and bloody flesh. 

This point apparently was not lost on Gibson who shows two Roman soldiers, transformed by the death of Christ, tenderly lowering His body down from the cross.  Just moments before, they had taken part in the relentless harassment, taunting and beating of Christ as He struggled to carry His cross.  The contrast of their lives couldn’t be greater … cruel hate defeated by unconditional love.

Which brings me to the perhaps the most difficult part of the movie, the point at which Jesus commands His disciples to “…love another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  That is too direct, too personal, too much to try to live up to.

But that is exactly the point of this movie.  What Jesus suffered, He suffered for us personally…intentionally…voluntarily.  He suffered so that, just like the two Roman soldiers, we too would be transformed.

Maybe that is why The Passion of the Christ has stirred so much controversy; there are those who are fearful of what such a transformation would mean.   On the other hand, maybe that is why millions have filled the theaters to see it — they recognize the need to be transformed.  It could be that for those who were confronted for the first time with God’s unconditional love, as well as for those like myself who were gripped with a fresh understanding of the sacrifice of Christ, Easter will never again be the same.

Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.




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