Have you heard of the controversy and heated debate swirling around Mel Gibson’s yet to be released film, “The Passion”? Just to be clear, I will summarize: Detractors, supposedly leaders of Jewish groups, as well as Catholics and Protestants, are concerned that this documentation of the final hours of Jesus Christ’s life and His resurrection “will fuel hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism.” Since this portrayal is arguably one of the most accurate of all movies ever made about any aspect of Christ’s life, we should be asking what these concerned “leaders” are saying about the Gospel of Christ.
Are they saying that the Gospels fuel hatred? If they are, they hit the nail right on its head. The Gospels have always fueled hatred against Christians as Jesus Christ very clearly forewarned they would. One would think Jesus’ message and mission of truth, love and mercy would inspire all men to a perpetual state of warm and fuzzy mutual affection. But if you actually read Jesus’ words, He will disabuse you of that notion in an instant.
And He went out from thence, and came into His own country; and His disciples followed Him. And when the Sabbath day was come, He began to teach in the synagogue; and many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “From whence hath this man these things and what wisdom is this which is given unto Him, that even such mighty works are wrought by His hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” And they were offended at him.
– Mark 6:1-3
Yes, Jesus was offensive to all who were unwilling or not yet ready to believe his message. His message was so offensive that mobs attempted to stone Him or throw Him off a cliff because of His teaching and healing. Yes, as Jesus was healing the dying, the lame and the blind, there were men and women desiring His death. What kind of message could elicit this great condemnation?
It was and is still very simple: Jesus is the Son of God. God chose to sacrifice His Son in order to pay for the sins of all mankind. The only cost to the sinner is the putting aside of our foolish pride in order to accept this free gift. God categorically declares that no man can earn this salvation with good deeds. We are universally and individually altogether too sinful to pay the price. We have to accept that Christ is the Son of God and died for our sins.
So what is the big deal? Free gift. Only have to accept the gift. No biggie, right?
Not so fast. The problem is this: Today’s American can’t even see they need salvation! “What have I done? I haven’t murdered anyone, have I?” This message of redemption is really, really offensive to a whole bunch of people.
So, as it was in His day, the story is just as offensive now as it was then. Millions of Christians over the centuries since Christ have paid for their unswerving declaration of Christ’s Gospel with horrifying persecution.
And what did Christ say we Christians should feel when persecuted? Prepare yourself for the most ridiculously politically incorrect characterization of unjust suffering ever offered:
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in Heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
– Matthew 5:11-12
When Jesus says “blessed are ye,” how would that be translated into modern English? Blessed” means “happy”! Yes! Believing Christians are told to be happy about their persecution because it is for Christ and truth.
Now Mr. Gibson will not likely pay the greatest price of all (thank goodness!), as so many Christians before him, but he will – as will other Christians – be persecuted for this kind of boldness.
Any movie telling an accurate account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ will and must elicit a stinging rebuke from the world.
Accordingly, I declare Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” as the “single most offensive movie ever made.” It is also the finest and greatest tribute to Christ I have ever seen in film.
You might be wondering why some movies about Christ do not offend as well as this one does. There are a few reasons. For starters, in past efforts, Christ’s scourging and torture is left unrealistically brief and inconsequential. “The Passion” is the only movie ever made to show the horrifying brutality of the pre-crucifixion price paid by Christ.
The Old Testament prophetically describes the results of Christ’s beating as rendering Him unrecognizable by His own people. Gibson and producer Steve McEveety address this modern omission head-on with the single-most graphic depiction of a true-life torture ever filmed. No, the Gospel is not for the faint-of-heart. This violence was not gratuitous, but appropriate.
What other things bother today’s critic? To be blunt, unbelief. Jesus is clearly shown as the Son of God. And, importantly, unlike many movies that end with Jesus’ death on the cross, “The Passion,” in the last brief scene, shows Christ in His tomb resurrected in the promised victory over death.
You see, Christians only see this bodily resurrection as an accurate representation of the life of Christ – unbelievers have to reconcile the claims of the Gospels with their belief systems. Many people today feel particularly offended by Jesus’ claim to be “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” and that “no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
Anybody can make a film about a great guy named Jesus, an itinerate carpenter-teacher humbly dispensing words of wisdom just like Buddha, Confucius and the Dalai Lama – nobody gets offended, everybody’s happy. However, no other recognized spiritual leader in history has claimed deity, nor have they been killed and brought back to life. Jesus drew a line in the sand between Himself and all past and future “spiritual leaders.”
Jesus said His message would put His followers on one side of a line and all other humanity on the other. This would extend even to believer’s families:
Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in Heaven. But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in Heaven.
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me. He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for My sake shall find it.”
– Matthew 10:32-39
A third reason this film must be reviled is its lack of condemnation for those who were responsible for Christ’s death. Critics, disingenuous or ill-informed, believe that because the Gospel’s account of the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion, portray Jewish religious leaders and Jewish mobs as actively involved in Jesus’ sentencing and execution, is, anti-Semitic!
Let’s see how silly this gets with a little illumination. Jesus, the condemned victim of torture and injustice is … Jewish. His mom, the virgin, the blessed among women, is … Jewish. Peter … is Jewish. Simon, the man who sacrificially and with utterly inspiring abandon, carries the cross for Christ at the expense of pain and suffering, is … Jewish. Jesus’ brother James, the “Marys” who discover Jesus’ empty tomb and Joseph of Aramathia – the rich man who offered his pristine sepulcher as Jesus’ burial tomb – were all … Jewish! The religious leaders who argued in opposition to the Jewish religious leaders instigating for Christ’s execution were … Jewish! Matthew, Mark, John, and Paul were all … Jewish. Could I go on? Of course! Almost endlessly.
By the way, most Christians agree that Jews are God’s chosen people and they consider the father of the Jewish race, Abraham, the father of all Christians as well! And here we are come full circle. The Gospel of Christ – a Jew – is characterized as “anti-Semitic,” and therefore its portrayal in film is as well. Most wonderful of all, Jesus, hanging from the cross, prays to His Father and asks forgiveness for His persecutors as they “know not what they do.”
Lastly, a particularly bizarre charge is made that Gibson’s film inaccurately portrays the Jewish religious leadership and the mob as orchestrating the illegal execution of Jesus. Maybe some of the films detractors haven’t read the New Testament Gospels yet. I suggest they do.
Yes! Corrupt Jewish religious leaders whipped up the primarily Jewish mob, to demand Jesus’ death. The execution was illegally conducted, Jewish law was broken. The story is therefore not a condemnation of the Jewish faith and its law, but of sin and corruption. All times, all institutions have experienced corruption at the hands of greedy, power-hungry men. Nothing new here – and certainly nothing anti-Semitic.
Everyone should see this movie. Not only is it “the greatest story ever told,” it is a cinematic tour de force. I predict this movie will become a classic: millions will see it, millions more will buy it in DVD. It will be shown in millions of homes every Easter. It will be seen around the world. And best of all, many viewers, once “offended” will be transformed.