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FIRST-PERSON: A thought-provoking Easter

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The images of “The Passion of The Christ” are forever burned in my mind.

It’s been months since I saw a pre-release screening of the film and I still find myself thinking about it as I read the Bible. The Gospels came to life in the movie, giving viewers a chance to walk the streets, witness Jesus’ beating and follow Him to the cross. Although the scene was short, I felt a great deal of relief as Jesus walked from the tomb. Because of Him, I, too, walked from death’s tomb.

I’ve been a bit more introspective this year as Easter approaches. Here are eight thoughts I’ve had as I reflect on Scripture and The Passion.

1. There had to be a sacrifice for our sins. Throughout the Old Testament, God required a blood atonement on behalf of the people. When Christ took the cross and shed His blood, He made the final sacrifice for sin. Seeing a holy Jesus take the cross in my place reminded me in graphic detail that I could not have endured His suffering to save my own life. He willingly did for me what I could not do for myself.

2. Satan was — and is -– ever-present. In the movie, he drifted through the crowds and stood over Jesus in the garden as He prayed. Many times throughout the Old Testament, Satan sought to prevent Christ’s birth. Once Jesus was born, Satan did everything to keep Him from the cross. He shadows our lives and attempts to steal from us the freedom Jesus won. It was a poignant portrayal of Satan’s banishment near the movie’s end. He lost forever. There is victory in Jesus!

3. Jesus was intensely focused on the Father’s purpose. Jesus agonized about taking the cross and pleaded with the Father to “take the cup” from Him. But Jesus stood after His final prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane determined to endure what followed. The movie’s powerful imagery of Him standing and definitively crushing the head of the snake sealed the prophecy of Genesis 3:15.

4. Jesus’ power leaves a wake of redemption in His path. Even as Jesus lifted His beaten and bloodied body from the dusty road on the way to Golgotha, He never stopped being God the Son. He willingly restrained His godly power as a human but the power of God was ever-present. The facial expression of the guard whose ear He replaced, Simon who help carry the cross, the guard who pierced His side — all of them experienced life changes and easily could have said with the centurion, “This man really was righteous” (Luke 23:47 HCSB).

5. Jesus became the prodigal son. Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34 HCSB). The Son and the Father were at that moment separated for the first and only time in eternity. Jesus became sin for us and God couldn’t look on Him. A grieved Father dropped a tear from heaven at that moment in the movie. But don’t you know that the Father was the first to welcome Jesus “home,” making Him the “Heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2 HCSB).

6. Jesus came to restore, not to condemn. Peter has taken a beating by pulpiteers over the years for denying Christ in His hour of need. But a mob was in the making as Jesus was hauled before the Sanhedrin in the late hours for an illegal trial. If Peter had identified with Christ, he might have been beaten to death or crucified himself. It was Jesus’ time to die, not Peter’s. Jesus had another purpose for Peter’s life at a later date. When we deny Christ, we are simply a prayer from restoration and the next breath from usefulness in God’s Kingdom.

7. I should expect to receive lashings when I identify with the cross. It occurred to me as I watched the movie that Simon the Cyrenian probably took several inadvertent back lashings intended for Jesus as he helped Jesus carry the cross. Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20 HCSB). A question we should ask as Christians is, “Are we so identified with Christ that we receive the lashings meant for Him?”

8. The world still hates Jesus. Secularists and liberal theologians have attacked the movie as sensational, anti-Semitic, historically inaccurate and culturally divisive. The larger issue is not the movie; it is the personal spiritual confrontation of the ages: “What am I going to do with Christ?” It is nearly impossible to see the movie and not wrestle with the question.

One’s answer — whether Christian or not — should be seriously measured. Egocentrism squeezes Jesus out and exiles Him to a place of unimportance. Secularists and liberal theologians want to set their own terms for dealing with Jesus. But it is spiritual suicide to deny that Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died, was raised to life and ascended into heaven where He sits at God’s right hand. “All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created” (John 1:3 HCSB).

Because of His preeminence, He made the exclusive claim as the way to eternal salvation (John 3:16-17;14:6). It is this truthful exclusivity the world hated 2,000 years ago and still hates today.

Spend some time this Easter reflecting on your relationship with Jesus. If you’ve seen the movie, re-read the biblical story and, whether a believer or not, ask yourself, “What am I going to do with Jesus?”
James T. Draper Jr. is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • James T. Draper Jr.