NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“Who killed Jesus Christ?”
Newsweek magazine featured the question on its cover. And ABC’s Diane Sawyer directed the question at Mel Gibson, quintessential movie star turned producer for his movie “The Passion of The Christ.” Of course, Sawyer was fishing for the answer that the Jews killed Jesus. (The film has been labeled anti-Semitic and one writer critiquing the movie — which he has not yet seen — has gone so far as to say the Gospels are anti-Semitic as well.)
Sawyer, it seems, also was attempting to discredit the movie and ultimately the biblical message it presents. Postmodernism says there is no truth. Universalism says Jesus is just one of many ways to God. Inclusivism says people can be saved by Jesus without personally trusting Him. Cults try to redefine Jesus. Liberal theologians deny a large number of the biblical accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings.
The question Jesus asked 2,000 years ago -– “Who do you say I am?” — is still the fundamental question of life. The Passion of the Christ clarifies the answer.
The movie opens Feb. 25 and has generated more pre-release debate than anything Hollywood has produced in a long time (possibly ever). Behind many of the barbed questions posed by media types is an open hostility to Jesus Christ and His exclusive claim that He is the only path to God and eternal life. People don’t like being told, or having to confront, that they are not the center of their universe. In a world bent on tolerance, The Passion of The Christ shatters the illusion that religion is a personal preference. The movie takes the viewer back 2,000 years and it is as if Christ was crucified all over again. Many people are offended by it. They should be. I am. It was a horrible death.
However, I challenge those who cry for tolerance to extend themselves by actually practicing it. I challenge them to look beyond their bias and objectively weigh the message of the film. I ask that they simply consider while they’re watching: “What if this is true?” Viewers willing to ask that single question open themselves to truth. Jesus Himself, not a movie, answers the question. “I was born for this,” Jesus responds to Pilate’s questioning (John 18:37), “and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth.” People viewing this movie who sincerely want to know the truth will find it.
Fidelity to the Scripture is what impresses me the most about The Passion of The Christ. It is truly a vicarious experience. In watching it, I felt like I was there, pushing along with the masses down the crowded street, curiously following Christ as He carried His cross to the crucifixion site. I’ve read the Gospels thousands of times throughout my life but this was the first time I’d actually stepped into them. I left the viewing overwhelmed with what Christ has done for me. I also left with the renewed belief that the story of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection is as relevant today as it was then. This movie truthfully tells the Old Story using the contemporary vehicle of film. In a culture that values experience as the ultimate measure of truth, this is as close as it will get to a 2,000-year-old historical event.
The Passion of The Christ is just as significant for the church as it is for the non-believer. We can’t afford to let this opportunity slip by. This is the talk of pop culture. Gibson’s film has done the hard part of broaching the subject of Jesus. All Christians need to do is engage in conversation those who are asking questions. It’s a great opportunity to allow our opinions to flow from truth of the Scripture. The movie also will call believers to a deeper commitment after seeing what Christ did for each of us.
We here at LifeWay realize the significance of the opportunity presented by The Passion of The Christ. We’ve quickly responded to support the local church. Our website, lifeway.com/passion, has tools for equipping believers. There are resources designed to help college students have viable ministries as well. Another new resource is “Discovering the Biblical Jesus,” written by Daniel L. Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. This study tackles the issues believers face in explaining Jesus to an unbelieving, pluralistic society, while deepening their faith.
By the way, the answer to the question, “Who killed Jesus?” is that I did, you did and God did. All human beings are sinners and are separated from God by our sin. The penalty for that sin is death -– everlasting separation from God. But the Bible says God the Father, in His great love for us, sent His Son to die for our sins. And Jesus clearly declares in Scripture that He came into the world for the express purpose of dying. He further says, “No one takes my life. Rather, I lay it down and I will take it up again.”
See the movie; you’ll better understand.
James T. Draper Jr. is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Passion of The Christ is rated R for violence. For information on using The Passion in outreach, resources are available on the Web from LifeWay Christian Resources at www.lifeway.com/passion.